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Southold files complaint protesting helicopter route extension

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

Southold Town officials announced Tuesday that they have filed a formal complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration over the four-year extension of the mandatory North Shore helicopter route.

Supervisor Scott Russell called on the FAA to reverse its controversial July 25 decision to extend the route through Aug. 6, 2020.

“The basis of our petition was that the decision was unlawful,” Russell said at a news conference at Town Hall.

The FAA’s decision, Russell said, violated presidential executive order 13132, which required the FAA to consult with town officials before extending the route and denied Southold residents both a notice of the extension and the opportunity to submit their comments.

Officials in attendance included Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), Suffolk County Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Southampton), Riverhead Town officials and a representative from the office of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), among others.

Town officials want the FAA to give residents in Southold and other communities on the East End an opportunity to comment on the route extension. The town is also asking the agency to pass a special air traffic rule that would require helicopters landing or departing from South Fork airports to use an “over water” helicopter route as an alternative to the current North Shore route.

Russell said the agency has been given 30 days to respond to the town’s petition. He said the town will evaluate its options if officials don’t hear back from the FAA, and added that the town has not ruled out taking the issue before a federal judge.

“We’re expecting a response that will favor the town’s position,” Russell said.

FAA officials said Tuesday that the agency has not received the petition and would not comment on pending litigation.

Residents and environmental groups have blasted the agency’s decision, pointing out that the route has created frequent noise from helicopters that disturb those who live along the route.

“Imagine having to live out here and all you hear is a constant chop-chop-chop,” said Teresa McCaskie, a Mattituck resident and member of the Southold Town Helicopter Advisory Committee.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter was also critical of the FAA, calling it “broken.” According to Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who helped form a helicopter and seaplane noise task force in Riverhead, town officials are considering following suit with Southold in submitting their own petition to the FAA on the matter.

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