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Asking for an end to helicopter noise, public meets with council official

Riverhead and Southold towns are “a doormat to the Hamptons” when it comes to helicopter noise.

That’s how several speakers described the helicopter routes being taken to South Fork destinations during a two-and-a-half hour meeting in Riverhead Tuesday. 

They say helicopter pilots have ignored a federal requirement to fly over water around Orient Point and are instead flying over people’s homes in Riverhead and Southold. In addition, they say helicopter pilots are flying at lower altitudes than required.

Elected officials from both towns, as well as county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and representatives of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) also were present at the meeting.

“This is like ‘Groundhog Day’,” Mr. Krupski said. “It’s the same complaints.”

Jeff Smith, vice president of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council, a volunteer group that sets many of the helicopter routes, said the Federal Aviation Administration made the North Shore helicopter route mandatory in 2012, something ERHC opposed.

That route requires helicopters to go around Orient Point, but makes exceptions for weather, emergencies, or when transitioning to or from a destination.

Residents say most of the helicopter traffic ended up cutting across the North Fork at Northville as it headed to South Fork destinations like East Hampton Airport and the Southampton Village Heliport.

This year, Mr. Smith said, ERHC abandoned all of the transition routes because they weren’t working, and instead asked that 100% of helicopters heading to the South Fork approach from the North Shore, and 100% of those leaving the South Fork do so over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. Smith said he has graphs showing that this is what helicopters have done, although many of residents who attended at Tuesday’s meeting did not believe that, and said westbound helicopters are still flying over homes on the North Fork.

Teresa McCaskie, a member of Southold Town’s helicopter noise steering committee, suggested that the Atlantic Ocean route be made mandatory in both directions. Several speakers also encouraged Riverhead and Southold officials to urge East Hampton to close its airport in 2021, a possibility the East Hampton Town Board has discussed publicly.

“Will you commit to have your group adopt an all-water route over Orient Point?” asked Northville resident Kathy McGraw.

Mr. Smith was non-committal on that question, posed by several speakers. He said he had five pages of notes from the meeting and his board will figure out its options for possible changes by March or April 2020.

When pressed by Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, Mr. Smith said he would not recommend an all-water route.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell blamed the noise problems on Mr. Schumer, saying the senator put political pressure on the FAA to create the North Shore route “to push the noise away from the heavily populated areas and sacrificed the East End.”

Garrett Armwood, a representative for the senator, disputed that and said Mr. Schumer has always supported an all-water route for the North Fork as well as one for the South Shore.

Photo caption: A packed Riverhead Town Hall Tuesday evening. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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