Sunday, March 08, 2015

Calls for unity at helicopter-noise press conference called by Rep. Lee Zeldin

East End residents and governments are united in a full court press in opposition to helicopter noise.

That was the message of officials gathered today for a press conference called by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) at Southold Town Hall.

Zeldin, a freshman congressman who’s been named vice chairman of the aviation subcommittee of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, said the issue is one of the most important he faces because it is negatively impacting the quality of life of thousands of East End residents.

It was Zeldin’s first in-district press conference, he said.

“It’s not necessary for helicopters to be buzzing your home while you and your family are trying to enjoy your backyards,” Zeldin said. “The people of the East End are proposing reasonable solutions.”

Zeldin wants to see the Federal Aviation Administration enforce the 2,500-foot minimum altitude rule already in place — especially when helicopters are transitioning over land, which is when they have been decreasing altitude significantly — and mandate several “transition access points” to ensure they are not all flying in a single path over one area of the North Fork. The congressman sent a letter to FAA administrator Micheal Huerta this week spelling out his concerns and demands.

Zeldin and other officials said the problem in the past has been getting the FAA to listen — and do something about it.

Meetings and discussions have proved unfruitful, County Legislator Al Krupski said today. He has been involved with the helicopter noise issue for many years, previously in his capacity as Southold Town councilman, he said.

Zeldin believes his efforts can produce results because of his appointment as aviation subcommittee vice chairman. The FAA is up for reauthorization, he said, “so there will be a lot of dialogue” with the agency.

East Hampton Town is currently considering stringent restrictions on helicopter departures and arrivals at the town-owned airport, which is the destination for most of the Hamptons-bound helicopter traffic originating in NYC.

The town airport had 8,400 helicopter arrivals and departures in 2014 — a 47-percent jump over 2013, according to East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. The helicopter operations resulted in two-thirds of the 22,000 complaints the town got about airport operations last year, Cantwell said. That’s more than the complaints received by Logan and O’Hare airports in 2014, he said.

The East Hampton Town Board will hold public hearings on four proposed local laws on Thursday, March 12 at 4:30 p.m., Cantwell said. The proposed local laws would ban all helicopters on weekends, implement a mandatory night curfew from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., impose an extended curfew for noisy aircraft, from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. and limit operations of “noisy” aircraft to one round trip — per week during the summer season, told the crowd of about 25 people gathered in the Southampton Town Hall meeting room this afternoon.

The new laws will restrict an estimated 75 percent of helicopter operations at the municipal airport, Cantwell said.

If the new laws are adopted by the East Hampton Town Board, there will surely be litigation that will likely tie up their enforcement, Zeldin said. That’s why it’s imperative the FAA act swiftly to enforce the existing altitude rule and adopt mandated transition access points before the start of the summer season.

“We are at a really critical point,” N.Y. State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said at today’s press conference. “This has gone many years without resolution. East Hampton has taken the bull by the horns,” Thiele said. “But if you think this is going to be an easy fight, you’re wrong… The people of the East End must stick together.”

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell praised the first-term congressman for making the longstanding helicopter noise issue “his first order of business” in Washington.

“The FAA holds the keys to the kingdom,” Russell said. Zeldin is right to hold the FAA to the fire, he said.

Zeldin said he has not heard any unreasonable proposals coming from East End residents. If the FAA doesn’t act to enforce minimum altitude requirements, East End residents will continue to press for the North Shore “all-water” route that will require helicopters to fly east over the Sound out to Orient Point and go around Orient Point to approach the South Fork, rather than “transitioning” over land on the North Fork.

“They are flying over Sound Avenue or even south of Sound Avenue and crossing over land to get to the bay,” Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy said. “Our citizens are the same as everybody else and the town favors regulation to stop the nuisance,” he said.

Gabrielsen said he does not support multiple transition points over the North Fork but thinks instead the all-water route that takes the aircraft around Orient Point is the preferred route.

The councilman said Riverhead has not gone on record supporting the all-water route around Orient Point, which was first proposed by Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter in 2010. Gabrielsen said he thinks the town should do so now.


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