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Zeldin, East End towns unite in battle against helicopter noise

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. 

On Sunday, officials representing the towns most directly impacted by low-flying aircraft backed him up at a press conference inside Southold Town Hall. The “united front” stressed the importance of helicopters maintaining a minimum altitude of 2,500 feet until they have reached their destination.

“We have to unite together to pursue common sense solutions to reduce helicopter noise,” the freshman congressman said.  “My constituents cannot afford to have another season ruined by disruptive noise.”

In Mr. Zeldin’s letter, which was sent to FAA administrator Michael Huerta on Monday,  he wrote that helicopters are currently beginning their descent as they cross between the forks, creating an immediate need for relief in the towns of Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island.

Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has been appointed vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation, an extension of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, also asked that the FAA establish clear transition points for aircraft crossing from the north to the south forks or pursue an all-water route around Orient Point.

The letter and press conference come days before the March 12 East Hampton Town Board public hearing on proposed aircraft restrictions at the town’s airport, the epicenter of the battle over helicopter noise. Mr. Zeldin stressed Sunday the importance of local control of the airport, saying it’s essential that local municipalities lead the fight against helicopter noise and that policies not be dictated in Washington, D.C.

The East Hampton legislation, which is expected to be voted on later this month, would:

• ban all helicopters on weekends during the summer season;

• impose a mandatory curfew for all aircraft from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.;

• extend the curfew on what the board has determined “noisy” aircraft from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.; and

• limit operations of noisy aircraft to one trip, either arrival or departure, per week during the summer season.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell — one of three supervisors along with Scott Russell of Southold and Jim Dougherty of Shelter Island to attend Sunday’s press conference — shared statistics about helicopter activity and noise complaints. He said helicopter arrivals and departures jumped 47 percent in 2014 to a total of more than 8,400. The town also handled about 15,000 noise complaints, he said, adding that was more than the number of complaints at major airports in Boston and Chicago.

“The degradation of people’s peaceful enjoyments of their own homes on the scale that’s now occurring throughout the East End threatens quality of life and the core of the economy,” he said.

Mr. Cantwell said research shows the new laws would restrict an estimated 75 percent of helicopter operations at the airport, while reducing helicopter noise complaints by more than 80 percent.

Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty at a press conference regarding helicopter noise at Southold Town Hall Sunday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)
Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty speaks at a press conference regarding helicopter noise at Southold Town Hall Sunday. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Russell both said Mr. Zeldin’s appointment to the House Subcommittee on Aviation should help get the attention of the FAA.

“The FAA holds the keys to the kingdom,” Mr. Russell said. “[Mr. Zeldin] is right to hold [their feet] to the fire.”

While Mr. Dougherty said his town has seen very little brushback from a helicopter ban it enacted seven years ago, he acknowledged that the situation is different in East Hampton.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele suggested that costly litigation from helicopter pilots and their wealthy clients will slow progress on the noise issue, but he said it’s a battle worth fighting.

“If anybody thinks this isn’t going to be a major fight from beginning to end, there’s a lot of money on the other side,” he said. “It is imperative that we win that fight and the way we do that is by sticking together.”

County legislator Al Krupski, and representatives of several helicopter noise advocacy and civic groups, also attended the press conference Sunday.

Noticeably absent was representation from the Southampton Town Board, though Zeldin staffers said they were invited to attend. 

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