There’s much to love about the North Fork as a place to live and visit. Its close-knit communities, wineries and farms stands, forests, creeks and bays all quickly come to mind. Living in what sounds like a war zone isn’t on that list.
But that’s the reality in several neighborhoods across Southold and Riverhead towns that are especially impacted by the noise of helicopters flying people between New York City and the Hamptons during the summer months. The well-heeled are enjoying their lives — and the beauty, peace and quiet of the East End we all value — at the direct expense of other residents.
It is blatant abuse and completely unacceptable.
Yet our federally elected leaders — Congressman Tim Bishop and senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand — seem powerless to stop the helicopters, despite ongoing efforts in D.C. that have generated an annual barrage of press releases touting regulations and maps and flight paths that, in the end, have provided zero relief for many beleaguered North Fork residents.
In fact, the new regulations have made matters worse here.
Consider that, despite requiring helicopters remain over the Sound as they make their way east from the city, pilots are allowed to deviate from those requirements when transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing. What that’s doing is funneling all the helicopter traffic — which once fanned out across the island — directly across the North Fork as the helicopters make their way to East Hampton and, less often, Gabreski airports.
Yet to hear our representatives speak, they’ve counted the new regulations as a victory.
Helicopter traffic to East Hampton Airport has increased 40 percent from last year, according to reports. None of those flights are going around Orient Point on their way to the South Fork, an obvious solution for the North Fork that has been championed by Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, who should be lauded for taking a leadership role in the movement to pressure federal authorities to provide relief.
It’s also clear that even if what’s being called the all-water route were to go in effect, helicopters would still need to fly over neighborhoods in East Hampton Town to reach their destination. But that airport is owned and operated by the Town of East Hampton, which draws revenues from its use. Southold and Riverhead residents see no benefits. So it’s on the East Hampton Town Board to weigh the tax benefits and interests of their own residents, those affected by the noise versus the convenience and comfort of their wealthy neighbors. We must be left out of that fight, but we need more effective leadership at the federal level.
The fact that neither Mr. Schumer nor Ms. Gillibrand attended any of the three East End forums held this week may not bode well for the future.