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Southold board: Airport noise 'unacceptable'

A helicopter lands at East Hampton Airport on

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

North Fork residents and officials are joining those protesting the steady flow of helicopters skipping over the Long Island Expressway to drop their passengers in the Hamptons.

The noise from crossings to and from East Hampton Airport is incessant, Southold officials and residents say.

"It's absolutely horrific," said Teresa McCaskie, who lives near Mattituck Inlet, where Manhattan helicopters cut south after traveling along a route a mile off the Long Island Sound coast.

The Southold Town Board this week called for curfews at East Hampton Airport on evenings and weekends. A resolution passed unanimously called the airport's flight management plan "unacceptable discrimination" against the North Fork.

"Southold is living with a huge problem," Town Supervisor Scott Russell said.

Russell pulled out of a group, including other East End officials and the Eastern Region Helicopter Council trade association, that developed a new summer route for pilots.

That route crosses the North Fork farther east, near Orient Point and East Marion, and became available Wednesday, the helicopter council said.

"They're not solving my problem by relocating half of the traffic to another part of my town," Russell said.

He said helicopters should fly around the North Fork's tip or be urged to take the southern route over the Atlantic Ocean.

Those requests, according to East Hampton Airport officials and the helicopter council, are unreasonable or illegal under airport rules. Federal law prohibits East Hampton Airport from having a hard curfew, according to airport manager James Brundige, though it does "strongly discourage" flights between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., according to its rules.

"We have to do what's best to establish safe, efficient routes, that impact the fewest homes," Brundige said. The airport also can't mandate helicopter routes, only work in cooperation with the helicopter companies.

While helicopter traffic has been building back toward pre-recession numbers, last year's volume still was 16 percent below the peak summer of 2008, he said.

About two-thirds of those trips use Long Island Sound, an FAA-mandated route pushed through at the urging of Sen. Charles Schumer last year. The remaining helicopter traffic flies south over the Atlantic. But that approach is already saturated, said Jeff Smith, chair of the regional helicopter council.

Smith and Brundige said it's not reasonable, for time and fuel reasons, to fly around the tip of Orient Point.

Schumer said he is working on mandating that helicopters traveling the North Shore go around Orient Point. "It will mean several minutes of inconvenience for the helicopters, and peace and quiet for Long Islanders," he said in a statement.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the airport's plan, which includes higher flights, might be "as well as we're going to do."

But for the North Fork, it might not be enough. "It's their airport, their traffic, and their problem," Russell said. "They're making it my problem."

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