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East End tackles helicopter noise at meeting

A helicopter lands at East Hampton Airport on

A helicopter lands at East Hampton Airport on Aug. 22, 2012. Credit: John Roca

East End leaders and residents vowed Sunday to find solutions to the community's long-standing drama over helicopter noise.

The discussion follows East Hampton Town officials' proposed package of laws aimed at reducing noise from the choppers, including a summertime weekend ban. Helicopter pilots and others in the aviation industry have opposed the proposal, citing worries about the effect on the economy.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said "serious and meaningful proposals" have emerged. But he predicted a prolonged community fight that could possibly reach the courts.

"There's a lot of money on the other side," Thiele said.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), in his first news conference on Long Island since being elected to Congress, said helicopter pilots and representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration must meet and offer concessions to ease the community's concerns. While he would not take a position on the town's proposals, he said "We are looking for immediate solutions."

For example, he said pilots must not fly lower than 2,500 feet above ground, which he said happens when they are transitioning over the North Fork. Pilots should also stop flying so low above Shelter Island to capture aerial shots of the bucolic town, he said.

To reinforce that point, Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty said he'd "no longer be looking up, smiling."

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency would respond directly to Zeldin.

About 70 people gathered at Southold Town Hall as officials discussed the issue Sunday.

The East Hampton Airport has had an increase in chopper rides in recent years, with flights up 47 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Traveling by helicopter to the airport is a convenient way for wealthy Manhattan residents to visit their summer homes. Pilots and others with business interests say a ban would harm the area's economy.

But residents have long complained of the choppers and the noise they bring.

Kathy Cunningham, an East Hampton resident and chairwoman of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said the group was thrilled to have Zeldin's support.

She acknowledged the fight would be an "uphill battle."

It's "critical to our sense of place. This is not just about noise, it's sort of an identity crisis for the East End.

"The aircraft noise issue is changing everything," she said.

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at LTV Studios in Wainscott.

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