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Residents, elected officials air grievances at chopper noise meeting

08/14/2015 12:46 PM |

Chopper

Make a 1-800 number? Target funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, or change its authority? Form a coalition with other similar areas in the country? Vote out our Senators? Or flat out, “Get in Schumer’s face?”

These were just a few ideas thrown out last night at a meeting in Peconic on the subject of helicopter and aircraft noise, where some speakers also said they think noise from sea planes has increased after helicopter regulations were recently enacted on the South Fork. The supervisors of Riverhead, Southold, East Hampton and Southampton towns all attended Thursday’s meeting in Peconic, which was called by Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and moderated by Southold Councilman Bob Ghosio.

A number of other elected officials attended as well, as did more than 50 residents from throughout the East End.

Among the suggested strategies for combatting the noise problems made by speakers and officials Thursday were: targeting U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; targeting the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget; getting Congress to pass legislation taking away some of the FAA’s power; documenting and calling in complaints of noisy aircraft; forming a national coalition with other areas around the country that suffer from aircraft noise; getting the FAA to require helicopters and aircraft heading to East Hampton and other South Fork destinations to fly around Plum Island on the North Fork, or over the ocean on the South Fork; and even chartering a bus to Washington, D.C., to “get in Schumer’s face” about the issue.

East Hampton Town recently passed three town laws aimed at reducing aircraft noise, although one of them was shot down in court and the other two are being challenged by an aviator’s group called Friends of East Hampton Airport.

The two that were upheld were an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, and an 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. curfew on noisy aircraft.

The one that was shot down limited the number of trips into and out of the town-owned East Hampton Airport to one per week.

The three laws were meant to work together, East Hampton Supervisor Larry Cantwell said; however, many complained that hasn’t been the case.

Kathy Cunningham of East Hampton, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, said that without the trip limit the curfews are “useless” because it compresses all of the helicopter trips into the same time periods.

“It made it worse,” she said.

While she and others were happy that the East Hampton Town Board has been working to reduce aircraft noise and that East End Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) also has made the issue a top priority, Ms. Cunningham added, “The aviation industry has made it clear they are not going to sit back and allow this.”

How best to get the federal government to do something about aircraft noise was a matter of differing opinions Thursday.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the difference between a U.S. senator and a town supervisor is that a supervisor actually has to see his constituents on a regular basis. He said he’s never seen Senator Gillibrand and wouldn’t even know what she looked like.

He said Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Schumer have to stop the aircraft noise.

“There is zero reason why they can’t use the south route along the ocean and the north route around Plum Island,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Walter, a Republican, said there shouldn’t be a person on the East End who votes for the two Democrats unless they solve this issue.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “We’ve got to hold them accountable. The issue lies with those two senators. If they don’t step up, we are all just pissing in the wind.”

Deborah Tinnirello, Ms. Gillibrand’s regional director, was at the meeting and said the senator is interested in helping with this issue. She handed out cards with her contact information to whoever wanted one.

No one from Mr. Schumer’s office was present, nor was anyone from the FAA present, although Mr. Ghosio said they were invited.

Kevin Dowling, an aide to Mr. Zeldin, said the congressman believes the only way to get “unresponsive” federal agencies like the FAA to listen is by targeting their funding.

The FAA’s reauthorization is upcoming and that will be “a hot issue,” as there are other areas around the country with similar complaints about the FAA, Mr. Dowling said.

The FAA, he said, has “a culture of ignoring issues on the local level.”

Marie Beninati of Southold said the North Fork doesn’t even have an airport and yet she counted at least 17 flights over her house in just over two hours on Aug. 10. But she feels like she’s not getting anywhere by calling and complaining about aircraft noise, and feels there should be a better way of monitoring it.

The Quiet Skies Coalition has a number — 1-800-376-4817 — to call with complaints.

Teresa McCaskie, who heads Southold’s Helicopter Steering Committee Coalition, said it’s important to document complaints. She said the town also needs an 800 number for complaints about sea planes, which are becoming more prevalent on the North Fork.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who is planning to run against Mr. Zeldin for Congress next year, said she feels an act of Congress changing the authority of the FAA is the only way to solve the noise problem.

Two speakers suggested the helicopters should fly over Georgica Pond in East Hampton, where many wealthy people and celebrities live.

Tom Cugliani of Shelter Island — who said he’s noticed a “dramatic increase” in sea planes as of late — said the flight path to East Hampton Airport used to be over Georgica Pond until the wealthy people who lived there complained and got Mr. Schumer to change it.

“So asking Senator Schumer for help is a fantasy,” he said.

A 2012 FAA rule, which was extended in 2014, required helicopters to fly over the water of Long Island Sound, one mile off shore, and to go around Orient Point, rather than fly over houses, en route to the South Fork.

But the rule allows pilots to deviate from the route when required for reasons of safety, weather conditions or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.

“I don’t think any helicopters went around Plum Island,” said Bob Malafronte of Sag Harbor.

Mr. Cantwell said not all of the helicopters heading for the South Fork are going to the East Hampton Airport. While the town was able to enact two laws at its local airport — which were upheld by the courts — there are also helipads in Southampton Village, in Montauk and at Gabreski Airport, he said.

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