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North Shore helicopter route extension causes public outcry

The FAA's recent decision to keep a controversial

The FAA's recent decision to keep a controversial helicopter route along the North Shore active until August 2020 has upset East End residents and politicians who want the route altered. Credit: Doug Kuntz

East End residents and activists are angered over the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent decision to keep a controversial helicopter route along the North Shore active until summer 2020.

The agency issued a ruling July 25 announcing another four-year extension of the route, which will expire Aug. 6, 2020.

In its ruling, the FAA said it found it “necessary to extend the rule for an additional four years to preserve the current operating environment while the FAA conducts ongoing helicopter research that will be considered to determine appropriate future actions.”

FAA officials declined to comment Wednesday on the ruling.

“All the information you need is in the Federal Register notice,” Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman, wrote in an email to Newsday.

The agency’s decision did not sit well with East End residents, who said they have been dealing for years with constant noise around their neighborhoods from increased helicopter traffic, or with politicians who have pressed the FAA to alter the mandatory route and shift it to the waters over the South Shore and Plum Island.

“Senator Schumer has long supported and fought for an all-over-water North Shore helicopter route that extends the current route past Orient Point and around Plum Island, as well as the establishment of an all-over-water South Shore route,” spokesman Angelo Roefaro said Wednesday. “He strongly urged the FAA to expand the current North Shore route to help the thousands of East End residents who are continuously burdened by the constant drone of helicopter noise. He will continue to work with concerned residents to ensure their voices are heard.”

Kathleen Cunningham, an East Hampton resident and chairwoman of the Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition, which supports anti-noise laws, called the agency’s ruling “an insult to all who reside on the East End of Long Island.”

“Not reaching out to local government for comment before adopting a route with a four-year timeline is a typical example of big government rolling over local jurisdictions,” she said Wednesday. “Any claim by the FAA that this was necessary for safety while it conducts studies on helicopters is a dodge.”

Janice LoRusso, 66, of Jamesport, who sits on Southold Town’s helicopter noise steering committee, said she has had to deal with the rumbling of helicopters flying near her home for years.

“I feel that the attitude of the FAA is that we don’t matter,” she said. “That we are unimportant, little hick potato farmers and we are all uneducated and illiterate, and that is not the case.”

Tim Hubbard, a Riverhead Town councilman, said he has heard from residents who have tried to insulate their homes in an effort to reduce the helicopter noise, to no avail.

“There’s rattling windows in houses, rattling china in china cabinets,” he said. “If you’re talking to someone on the phone, you can’t hear anything because of the noise.”

Hubbard said using an alternate route that will take the helicopters over an all-water South Shore path is a less disruptive solution for residents that the FAA should consider. In the meantime, Hubbard said there are plans in place to start a task force in Riverhead that would join efforts in East Hampton and Southold to tackle the issue.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday that the town is considering taking legal action against the agency to halt the route.

“They were required to hold a public hearing,” Russell said of the FAA. “They did not do that. They were required to show the route would reduce noise . . . they did not do that.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said that his office has been in contact with local elected officials on the matter and that he will communicate with the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to seek possible alternative solutions his office can pursue.

Zeldin added that the agency’s decision ignored concerns from local residents, which he said was “deeply disturbing and is an example of issues with the FAA that I hear about from colleagues across the country.”


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