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Towns will continue to fight chopper route despite FAA’s latest ruling


Elected leaders say they aren’t giving up their fight against helicopter noise despite the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision last month to reject a petition by Southold Town requesting that the controversial North Shore route be reconsidered.

Southold argues in its petition that the FAA did not give the town its right of notice and opportunity to be heard before extending the route to August 6, 2020 and requested it mandate a South Shore route for flights to and from the South Fork.

When asked for comment on the decision, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell described the ruling as “perplexing, but not unexpected.”

“Unfortunately, what they’re saying is the public’s opinion doesn’t matter,” he said. “This is an agency that hasn’t listened to us for years.”

A FAA rule approved in 2012, commonly referred to as the mandated North Shore route, requires helicopters to fly over the water of Long Island Sound — one mile off shore — and go around Orient Point to access East Hampton Airport rather than fly over houses. But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for reasons of safety, weather conditions or approaching or departing the airport.

North Fork and Shelter Island officials and anti-noise activists have maintained that to alleviate helicopter noise it’s necessary to scrap the North Shore route mandate and require pilots to travel along the South Shore or expand the mandated passage for a few miles to the east side of Plum Island and over Gardiners Bay.

The FAA said Southold’s petition failed to “identify an immediate safety or security concern that would be resolved by eliminating the North Shore route and mandating the South Shore route,” according to a May 16 letter addressed to Mr. Russell from FAA deputy director of airspace services Gary Norek.

“Because your petition for rulemaking does not raise an immediate safety or security concern, the FAA finds that the actions requested in your petition cannot be addressed at this time due to other priorities and resource constraints in the agency,” Mr. Norek said.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty responded Monday morning by telling the Reporter that, “the FAA is too responsive to the helicopter pilots’ pleas and positions and doesn’t pay enough attention to local residents on the ground.”
Southold has forwarded the FAA’s ruling to Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) — a supporter of the petition — for review, Mr. Russell said.

Riverhead Town, which also filed a similar petition, is bracing for the same response from the FAA. Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is also the liaison to the town’s helicopter noise task force, described the agency’s ruling on Southold’s petition as “very disappointing and disheartening.”

“The people who live in the path of these flights are so frustrated,” he said. “They [the FAA] aren’t too interested in what we have to say. Any type of change needs to come from the federal level.”

“You can’t sit back and do nothing about it — each voice needs to be heard in the form of a complaint,” he added.