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03/09/15 8:00am
Congressman Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters and concerned members of the public at a press conference on helicopter noise at Southold Town Hall Sunday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

VERA CHINESE PHOTO Congressman Lee Zeldin speaks to reporters and concerned members of the public at a press conference on helicopter noise at Southold Town Hall Sunday.  Third from left, Supervisor Jim Dougherty.

Congressman Lee Zeldin asked the Federal Aviation Administration to do its part in reducing helicopter noise on the East End before the busy summer season in a letter he sent last week.  (more…)

07/14/13 11:46am

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A federal court has rejected a challenge by helicopter pilots that would have overturned Federal Aviation Administration rules requiring they fly a mile off Long Island’s North Shore during their trips back and forth to the Hamptons.

The pilots, represented by Helicopter Association International Inc., have been fighting FAA rules enacted last year after the agency found “residents emphatically agreed that helicopter overflights during the summer months are unbearable and negatively impact their quality of life,’ according to a decision issued Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.

The helicopter association had argued, among other points, that the FAA lacked the authority to change air traffic patterns solely for reducing the impact of aircraft noise on residents and had exceeded its congressional limits on authority.

The court disagreed.

“Although the noise-related provisions [the helicopter association] cites refer to discrete areas, for example, to noise reduction in or near airports, neither their substance nor their structure suggest that Congress intended to narrow its broad authorization to the FAA to regulate the use of navigable airspace, much less to restrict the FAA’s capacity to manage aircraft noise to these limited contexts,” reads the three-judge panel’s decision, written by Circuit Court Judge Judith Rogers.

The judges also agreed the FAA had the authority to act out of concern for safety on the ground, below the flight paths.

The 2012 rules came after years of complaints along the North North and Shelter Island about the noise from helicopters taking well-heeled passengers back and forth to the South Shore over homes, sometimes at low altitudes.

The concern caught the attention of Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers who lobbied on behalf of residents for the changes.

Helicopter pilots had typically taken three routes over Long Island, either along the South Shore, North Shore, or over the Long Island Expressway. However, the North Shore route was preferred because it was faster and less likely to encounter weather delays than the southern route, according to the court case.

Under the FAA’s new rules, helicopter pilots are permitted to fly inland on the North Shore only in the case of inclement weather or other emergencies. Offenders could face fines or license revocations.

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10/14/12 5:00pm

An “advocate” for helicopter operators is what Bill Faulk, aide to Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, has long considered Robert Grotell. Mr. Grotell’s official title is “special advisor” to the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

Max Young, a spokesman for U.S. Senator Charles Schumer — whose office, like Mr. Romaine’s, has had numerous meetings about helicopter noise over Long Island that Mr. Grotell attended — describes him as a good one. “Robert Grotell is a forceful advocate for the helicopter industry,” he says, “and was a leader in the unsuccessful industry effort to beat back the quality-of-life-improving regulation that reduced helicopter noise by requiring pilots to fly at higher altitudes and over water.”

Nevertheless, the Town of East Hampton in March gave Mr. Grotell’s business, PlaneNoise, a contract to provide “noise complaint management services for aircraft noise complaints” involving East Hampton Airport.

The town-owned field has become the biggest noisemaker on Long Island, largely because of the helicopters flying between East Hampton and Manhattan. The choppers fly loud and low over the length of Long Island.

Efforts to deal with the raucous situation have met with stiff resistance from the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, which represents the operators of the choppers.

For example, when Mr. Romaine introduced a county law to try to deal with the helicopter noise in 2008, there was Mr. Grotell at the hearing at the Suffolk Legislature arguing that Suffolk County was preempted by the federal government from passing any law regulating the flight paths of helicopters.

The vote by the East Hampton Town Board to give Mr. Grotell a $15,000-a-year contract to monitor East Hampton Airport noise was unanimous.

Kathleen Cunningham, chairwoman of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition, describes the arrangement as a “huge conflict of interest.”

Barry Holden of Noyac, a leader of recent citizen protests to East Hampton Airport chopper noise, says he has been “saddened but not at all surprised that the owner of the company that was hired by the East Hampton Town Board to gather this data is the preeminent lobbyist for the helicopter industry. It just shows how corrupt this [East Hampton] board has become.”

The Sag Harbor Express has editorialized that “it seems to us a little like the fox in charge of the henhouse and makes us wonder if all those calls to that [noise] hotline that we’ve made have, in fact, been for naught. We have to imagine that the East Hampton Town Board has not been ignorant of the fact of who’s been at the other end of the line and what their particular motives may be…”

Pivotal to the East Hampton arrangement was Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the board’s “liaison” to the airport. He defends it. “Some people say he’s in conflict,” he says, “but he’s very diligent and professional. I don’t see Robert as a shill for helicopter interests.”

Mr. Grotell, in an interview, said he sees no conflict. He described PlaneNoise as a “one-person shop” consisting of himself. “I have developed a technological solution allowing airports and governmental entities that run airports to collect noise complaints in an efficient manner,” he said.

As for being an advocate, “I’m an advocate of community capability,” said Mr. Grotell. He said his residence and PlaneNoise are located in Port Jefferson. He worked for New York City for 12 years including as deputy commissioner of transportation under Mayor Bloomberg.

His contract with East Hampton has been followed by one with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In August, the Port Authority “entered into a three-year contract with PlaneNoise for a total amount of $54,400,” said Ron Marisco, its assistant director of media relations. “The contract provides the Port Authority with software and a toll-free number and a web form link on our website to collect noise complaints.” This Grotell contract requires him to field complaints emanating from Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty, Stewart and Teterboro Airports.

Ms. Cunningham of the Quiet Skies Coalition holds that collecting aircraft noise complaints “should be done in an unimpeachable fashion — by a disinterested third party.”

That would be fair and sensible.

09/02/12 5:00pm

“Since when did helicopter pilots take over the town and do what they want?” demanded Ruby Jackson at a packed meeting last week about the racket being made by helicopters flying in and out of the town-owned East Hampton Airport.

“We are victimized!” declared Ms. Jackson.

“You have to stand up and take back our town and ban this unnecessary traffic,” said Ms. Jackson, an artist from Noyac, directing her comments to the public officials present. “It is destroying our place.”

The choppers that fly between Manhattan and East Hampton have made the East Hampton Airport the biggest noisemaker on eastern Long Island. The Hamptons-bound helicopters, with passengers able to pay a hefty fare of up to $2,000 each round-trip, cruise loud and low over Nassau County, western and central Suffolk County and then the East End. Especially hard hit in recent times — because of a change in route to and from the field — have been Noyac, North Sea, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor.

Public officials at the meeting August 23 in Bridgehampton included U.S. Representative Tim Bishop; staffers from the offices of U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman; Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Southampton Councilwomen Bridget Fleming and Christine Scalera.

“What is currently in place is demonstrably unfair,” said Mr. Bishop.

But he stressed that what can be done about the noise is unfortunately limited. He spoke of seeking “voluntary” adjustments from helicopter pilots and the companies running the choppers.

“All we have is reason and persuasion,” said Mr. Bishop. “If helicopter pilots want to give us one of these” — he made a gesture with his hand — “they can. There’s not a controlling authority.”

That’s what led to Ms. Jackson’s declaration “to stand up and take back our town and ban this unnecessary traffic.”

There are numerous ways it could be done.

Because of the chopper noise situation, the Suffolk County Legislature in 2009 passed a law making it illegal for anyone to fly a helicopter in a manner that “creates a hazard or undue hardship for persons and property on the surface.” It was authored by Legislator Edward Romaine, whose district includes Shelter Island. “Flying over somebody’s house at 500 or 1,000 or 1,500 feet would be creating an undue hardship for persons and property,” says Bill Faulk, Mr. Romaine’s legislative aide.

The administration of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy “declined to enforce the law and we haven’t heard anything from the Bellone administration to our request about enforcement made earlier this year,” he said. The law comes with a $1,000 fine per violation.

It needs to be enforced.

Suffolk’s towns and many of its villages have ordinances to protect people from noise that is louder than a certain level of decibels. As writer Julie Penny of Noyac said at the meeting last week, Southampton Town has “a noise code that is being breached” by the aircraft heading to and from East Hampton Airport.

It, too, needs to be enforced.

Pat Trunzo, a board member of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition (quietskiescoalition.org), said at the meeting, “The solution is to tell the town [of East Hampton] to stop taking FAA money.” Indeed, if the town does not pursue a now pending Federal Aviation Administration grant, as of the end of 2014 it can, at long last, “get this airport under control,” said Mr. Trunzo. The “solution to pollution” from aircraft noise is not, he said, “dilution” — spreading the racket, as the airport’s new summer control tower has done — but getting at its source.

The problem in East Hampton (through many administrations) is the coziness of some town officials with flying interests. Interestingly, the much-heralded “hotline” the town arranged for people to call to complain about the chopper noise is operated by a Port Jefferson-based company, “PlaneNoise,” headed by Robert Grotell. Mr. Grotell’s other role is “special advisor” to, and a leader of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, the entity that represents the helicopter pilots and “operators” that use East Hampton Airport.

On the level of the federal government, the claim it can’t take strong action to deal with a tiny group that is victimizing the overall population with noise pollution is hard to believe. If the FAA won’t do it, then the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can.

As Ms. Jackson said, every public official needs to “stand up” and fight — and fight hard — for the people. Before the word “official” comes the word “public.” That’s what government leaders are supposed to be about: representing the people not special interests.