In the fight over noisy helicopters, there's consensus amongst East End officials that helicopters should be forced to fly over the Atlantic Ocean.
Nineteen public officials, representing all levels of government on the East End, renewed a petition to the Federal Aviation Association this week, requesting a mandatory Atlantic helicopter route.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, announced on Monday that the officials, including, Senator Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, and Assemblyman Dan Losquadro, R-Shoreham, had signed a letter to Michael P. Huerta, acting administrator at the FAA, in an effort to reduce helicopter noise.
A copy of the letter is attached here.
One signature noticeably missing from the letter was that of East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. The only East Hampton Town official who signed it was Councilman Dominick Stanzione, as the airport liaison.
East End officials first supported a mandatory Northern and Atlantic routes in a letter sent to the FAA on June, 24, 2010. This past summer, the FAA mandated only the Northern route, which caused an uproar from residents in Southampton Town.
"The current situation remains unsatisfactory. For some local communities, the situation has actually gotten worse during the summer of 2012," officials said in the new letter, dated Oct. 12. "Helicopter noise...also adversely impacts a regional economy dependent on tourism and the second home industry."
The letter also points to an example of a similar route change that worked elsewhere on Long Island. "The establishment of the mandatory North Shore Route mitigated the impacts of helicopter noise in Nassau County and Western
Suffolk by keeping helicopters one mile offshore in the Long Island Sound,
but did nothing to alleviate the problem on the East End," the letter states.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell told Patch on Tuesday, "By our estimates, about 83 percent of the flights headed to the Hamptons leave from southern Manhattan. It simply makes sense to have them stay south and fly over the ocean as they head to their destination. I believe if this becomes mandatory, it will be the only solution that would bring us real relief."
The Quiet Skies Coalition, which has been protesting the increased noise after the northern route change this summer, welcomes the officials uniting on the quality of life and economic issue, but the group still has concerns.
"Aircraft noise is a terrible plague on affected communities and remains a number one concern for residents. It is rewarding to see our elected representatives responding to constituent concerns with one voice," said executive director Kathleen Cunningham.
"However, while there is some justification for sending helicopters over the Atlantic to approach East Hampton Airport, simply spreading the noise around just victimizes greater numbers of homeowners and wildlife, rather than reducing the source of the problem," she said. "Or, it compounds the problem for already seriously affected residents, as was the case on Bastille Day, 2012, when Councilman Stanzione sent all northbound helo traffic away from Northwest Creek and directly over Jessups Neck."
The group regards the letter as a first step. "However, access limitations including setting curfew, hours of operation and numbers and concentrations of flights are the only real noise mitigation solution," she said.
Meanwhile, the East Hampton Aviation Association also agrees with the recommendation, according to board member Gerard Boleis. "It is a good plan to reduce helicopter noise in our neighborhoods," he said. "As small plane owners at the airport, we have no safety problem flying near Islip or Kennedy airport after filing a plan to do so."
Discourse over whether Stanzione should have signed the letter on his own, without a public discussion about whether a petition to mandate the southern route is in East Hampton Town's best interest, was not resolved at the town board work session on Tuesday.
Wilkinson explained that he and Thiele had several discussions, over the phone and by email, about the letter to the FAA. Wilkinson said he questioned a paragraph in the initial draft that indicated the noise burden would only be placed on Wainscott resident and that Thiele amended the draft — though Wilkinson said he didn't receive the new copy at the same time the other town supervisors did.
When Thiele's office sent him the new draft, Wilkinson said he told Thiele that the entire East Hampton Town Board would have to discuss it before he would sign it.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said the letter should have been discussed in public, pointing to the opening paragraph that states that those who signed the letter are "elected officials at the Federal, State and County levels, all the Town Supervisors, Village mayors representing all municipalities in the five East End Towns of Suffolk County."
"So we talk about it after its a fait accompli?," she said.
On Monday, Wilkinson said he received a copy of the signed letter as it was sent to the FAA. He said he was not only surprised the letter had already gone out, but that it also had Stanzione's signature on behalf of the town.
"I disagree that it had to be vetted," Stanzione said, pointing to the 2010 letter that East Hampton Town supported an Atlantic route. "I felt it was my obligation to support the latest effort," he said.
With reporting by Erin Schultz