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Town considering legal action against FAA over helicopter route


Southold Town is investigating possible legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration over the agency’s decision to extend a North Fork helicopter and aircraft route four more years without waiting for public comment from the Town.

In a statement at Tuesday’s work session, Town Councilman Robert Ghosio called the decision a “ham-fisted precipitate action” that deprived residents of their Constitutional right to petition, the town of its due process rights, and violated a presidential executive order that required the FAA to consult with town officials before extending the route.

“If given the opportunity to which it was clearly entitled, the Town of Southold would have provided the FAA with substantial evidence that the [North Shore Route] had not reduced helicopter noise and would have requested the FAA to terminate the NSR, not extend it,” the statement reads.

The town’s legal counsel will now investigate what legal options the town has to reverse the FAA’s decision.

Jim Harmon Jr., legal cousel to the town’s Helicopter Noise Steering Committee, said the FAA approved the route on Friday, even after they had been informed that the Southold Town Board would be meeting Tuesday.

“I was shocked that they went ahead. They knew that you were going to meet here today,” he said. “In my opinion, Southold Town had the right to be heard.”

Mr. Ghosio said it was “beyond comprehension” that the FAA would approve the route for another four years. He said the approval came as an especially egregious surprise because Mr. Ghosio, along with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), had spoken at a public forum on helicopter noise on Saturday.

Both elected officials, unaware that the FAA had approved the route, said the route, which was due to expire on Aug. 6, should not be extended.

According to Mr. Harmon, the FAA stated it was forgoing the normal public comment period because it didn’t want to cause confusion among pilots during the busiest flight season of the year. But Mr. Ghosio said if the FAA wanted to avoid a mid-season switch, it should have approved a temporary extension of a few months, not four years.

Helicopter committee member Adam Irving had a different theory, noting the North Shore Route mainly affects areas in northern Queens, Port Jefferson and the North Fork, and implying the route avoids heavily populated areas in Nassau County that have more voters.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he will work with Mr. Zeldin and hopefully the other East End towns to push back against the FAA. There is no timetable for when legal action might be taken.

“We’re looking to do the right thing that’ll produce the right result,” Mr. Harmon said.

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Photo caption: Town Councilman Robert Ghosio reads from a statement as members of the town’s helicopter committee — Adam Irving and James Harmon Jr. — at Tuesday’s work session meeting.