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Riverhead Town gears up for another battle over helicopter noise

With summer approaching, Riverhead Town’s Helicopter Noise Task Force is gearing up for another battle over helicopter noise. Task force members met last Thursday with the Town Board and leaders of a similar group in Southold Town to plot strategy.

One of the key points they plan to highlight this year is that helicopters should not be allowed to fly over the United Riverhead Terminal oil tanks in Northville. 

“The concern is the oil tanks,” said Teresa McCaskie, who heads the effort in Southold Town. “I think that should be the first and foremost priority.” 

Officials cited the fear of an accident over the tanks, which have served as a visual marker for helicopters crossing over to the South Fork.

In the past, officials say, helicopters have been flying over homes on the North Fork to reach destinations on the South Fork — and efforts to get that changed have fallen on deaf ears. 

“We have a group of residents who are really facing issues with quality-of-life and issues of safety,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who chairs Riverhead’s task force. 

She said the Federal Aviation Administration established a voluntary North Fork helicopter route in 2008 for helicopters flying the North Shore between Lloyd Harbor and Orient Point, which became mandatory in 2012. That route was extended for four more years in 2016. The rule was developed by the FAA, working with the Eastern Region Helicopter Council.

It required helicopters heading east on the North Fork, but bound ultimately for the South Fork, to fly along the North Shore a mile offshore, and then go around Orient Point completely in order to get to South Fork destinations. 

But, Ms. Kent said, the route also allowed pilots to cut across the North Fork if there were issues with safety or weather.

According to the FAA, “Under the rule, pilots are permitted to deviate from the route and altitude requirements when necessary for safety, weather conditions, or transitioning to or from a destination or point of landing.”

“I’m told that very few helicopters ever go around Orient Point,” Ms. Kent added.

“I am the bull’s-eye when they transition across Northville,” said John Cullen, a former president of the Northville Beach Civic Association. “I’ve had five helicopters over my house at once. I’ve had helicopters over my house at 400 feet. I could see the white in the pilot’s eyes … So, I’ve been really affected.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said that even if pilots don’t fly over the tanks, they still will be flying over homes on the North Fork. 

She thinks the emphasis should be getting them to fly a South Shore route if they are heading to South Fork destinations. 

Ms. McCaskie said far more helicopters have been using the North Shore route than the South Shore route. 

Officials said last Thursday that in addition to keeping helicopters from flying over the oil tanks, and to get them to use the South Shore route when traveling to or from the South Fork, a third option they’d like to see would require helicopters flying from the North Shore route to South Fork destinations to at least leave the area along the South Shore. 

A representative of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council could not be reached for comment. 

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