Not even a week after East Hampton adopted legislation to curb helicopter noise on the East End, the town has been slammed with a lawsuit.

According to a statement issued by the town today, “The Town of East Hampton was served with a lawsuit in federal court this morning by the Friends of the East Hampton Airport organization, along with several corporations. Stripped of its rhetoric, the 34-page complaint is entirely predictable and contains no surprises. The plaintiffs assert that the town’s three new restrictions on aircraft are unreasonable and violate the U.S. Constitution.”

The complaint, filed with the United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, today, states that “. . .the town has no authority to promulgate airport restrictions that conflict with federal aviation law and policy.”

Also, the complaint states that local governments “have no authority to use their police powers to regulate aircraft in flight or to impose airport noise or access restrictions.”

In adopting the restrictions, the complaint states, “the town has knowingly and purposefully transgressed the bounds of its extremely limited authority.”

The complaint also states that the restrictions will cause “serious and irreparable harm” to businesses that depend upon the business generated by the airport; the restrictions will also cause neighboring airports to become congested, the complaint states.

According to East Hampton Town, “The complaint cites several federal laws and provisions of the U.S. Constitution, but conveniently forgets what makes these restrictions unique.”

The statement reads that “plaintiffs ignore the years of studies, analyses, public meetings, consultations with airport users, and deliberative process and town board deliberations that led to the three restrictions.”

In addition, the statement said, “plaintiffs forget that the town has patiently waited for federal contractual obligations to expire before taking this action. Plaintiffs don’t mention that the Airport Noise and Capacity Act no longer applies to this airport. Plaintiffs conveniently ignore the many, many steps that led to the town board decision that these restrictions are necessary – steps that included federally mandated flight paths for helicopters, voluntary flight paths for all aircraft, voluntary curfews, voluntary altitude requirements and other measures.  All of these efforts proved ineffective.” And, the statement said, “Plaintiffs don’t admit that the restrictions are narrowly targeted to address the operations of most concern that generate the most disturbance – and that the restrictions will not affect almost 80 percent of the operations at the airport.”

In the statement, East Hampton Town officials added,”We have, with surgical precision, defined precise restrictions that limit only the most disturbing operations at East Hampton Airport. The town has committed to an incremental approach — and to reevaluation of the restrictions after the end of the 2015 season to make sure that they have been only as restrictive as necessary.”

The statement said that East Hampton “is fully prepared for this litigation and will vigorously defend its legal and constitutional right to impose reasonable, non-arbitrary, and carefully balanced restrictions.  Plaintiffs raise issues that we are fully prepared to defend. The issues that plaintiffs raise have been litigated over and over again in lawsuits throughout the nation and airport proprietors have consistently won. While we anticipated this lawsuit, it is sad that these airport users are now going to force the Town to spend scarce airport funds to defend these restrictions rather than working to make this airport the best it can be.”

Last week, East Hampton voted for some restrictions — but did not act on legislation that would have completely banned helicopters on summer weekends.

After months of public outcry and many meetings on the East End to address the escalating and controversial issue, the East Hampton town board voted Thursday to adopt legislation that will prohibit use of the airport in East Hampton between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. In addition, use of of the airport by noisy aircraft is prohibited between the hours of 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. Finally, more than two uses of the airport by a noisy aircraft during a calendar week is prohibited.

A much-debated fourth restriction, which would have banned all helicopter traffic on weekends, from Thursday to Monday during the height of the summer season, was ultimately not included in the vote.

The adopted legislation comes after  a helicopter noise forum held last year in Southold and the formation of a helicopter noise steering committee.

“The adopted local laws restricting use of the airport in East Hampton is a giant step forward,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said last week. “The board showed courage and conviction. Above all, they showed a deep commitment to their neighbors and to the communities affected. More work is still to be done, but this is a great sign.”

Change came after a new board in East Hampton proved receptive to the cries of its East End neighbors: On December 31, the town of East Hampton let expire four Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances, taking back the reins in terms of overseeing its airport. For years, East Hampton had its hands tied and could not regulate hours of operation and number of flights after accepting funding from the FAA.

Last week, Cantwell reflected on the vote. “The East Hampton town board took a historic step last night toward gaining local control of East Hampton Airport in the face of ever-increasing helicopter noise,” Cantwell said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday while he hadn’t yet read the legislation  and could not comment on specifics but predicted potential issues could arise. “This is a critical point for the East End and for the Town of East Hampton, to see if the Federal Aviation Administration challenges East Hampton. If the FAA doesn’t challenge East Hampton, the residents of the East End will have more power to fight helicopter noise. This is a critical test for the FAA, to see whether they land on the side of helicopter pilots or on the side of residents.”

Last year, although the federal rule requiring Hamptons-bound helicopters to fly over the L.I. Sound along the north shore was extended for two years by the FAA in June, the FAA did not adopt a proposal endorsed by New York State Senator Charles Schumer and former Congressman Tim Bishop to require helicopters to stay off-shore and fly around Orient Point and Shelter Island to the South Fork. Walter first argued for that route in 2010, but got no response.

A call to the Friends of the East Hampton Airport organization was not immediately returned.


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