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‘Echo Route’ directs helicopter pilots to fly around North Fork, but critics say problems remain

Helicopter pilots are being urged to fly an all-water route to and from the Hamptons rather than transitioning over the North Fork, according to new routes issued by the East Hampton Town Airport.

But some residents who have been critical of helicopter noise aren’t applauding just yet.

According to the flight paths dated Jan. 21, pilots using the “Echo Route” would proceed along the North Shore Helicopter Route east at 3,500 feet to Plum Gut, turning to proceed south to the airport. “Remain at altitude as close in as possible for noise abatement,” the instructions state. “The Echo Gates must be flown precisely for noise abatement.”

During a Southold Town Board work session Tuesday, Teresa McCaskie of the town’s helicopter noise steering committee outlined several concerns she has over the new plan, including the lack of input from community members in Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead.

“These routes are not a solution,” she said, noting that an increased amount of air traffic over Orient will negatively impact residents in that area. In addition, she said, there is no language included that addresses how far off shore the helicopters are supposed to fly. The South Shore Route, which Ms. McCaskie said is still underutilized, requires pilots to fly one mile offshore.

“Everyone on the beach is going to have to watch the highway in the sky,” she said.

Orient resident and helicopter committee member Adam Irving compared the route change to “whack-a-mole.”

“They help inland residents who have been slammed for years with transition route noise and shift it to [Long Island Sound]-facing communities,” he said in an interview Tuesday, adding that even at a mile offshore, twin-engine helicopters would still generate noise. “Why should East Hampton beachgoers hear the wind and waves while Sound beachgoers have to listen to chopper racket?” he said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, East Hampton Airport manager Jim Brundige declined to comment on the new routes, but confirmed that they were released within the last month.

Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association, said in an interview Tuesday that the new route will be a “disaster” for East Marion and Orient. “We’re the two quietest hamlets because we’re the furthest east,” she said. “It’s another example of the 1% trumping the rest of us.”

Some members of the Town Board are trying to keep an open mind. “This is obviously not a fix,” said councilwoman Sarah Nappa, who serves as liaison to the helicopter noise committee. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Councilman Bob Ghosio, who formerly served as the liaison to the helicopter noise committee, said the route proposed is “basically the route we’ve been fighting for for a long time.”

He agreed that the distance pilots must fly offshore should be addressed, in addition to the frequency the route is used in combination with a south shore route, for example. “If that’s addressed … we may actually have something a whole lot better than what we had before,” he said.

Ms. McCaskie, Ms. Murray and Mr. Irving are all skeptical that pilots will comply with the route, instead opting to cross over to save money and time.

Ms. McCaskie thinks the measure is meant to reduce noise complaints from North Fork residents to benefit an argument to save the East Hampton airport from closure.

Councilman Jim Dinizio thinks that plan may backfire. “If they’re going out over Orient, they’re going to get more complaints than they’ve ever gotten,” he said.

Though it can be “exhausting” to lodge complaints, Ms. McCaskie is urging residents to continue being as vocal as possible.

She’s planning on attending a “Fly Neighborly Kickoff” meeting of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, which is open to community members, elected officials, Federal Aviation Administration officials, airport managers, but not open to members of the media, on March 11 in Melville.