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Helicopter bill heads to president’s desk

10/04/2018 6:00 AM |

A bill passed by the Senate Tuesday will require the Federal Aviation Administration to reassess the unpopular North Shore Helicopter Route.

According to Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the measure includes an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that would require the FAA to consider the noise impacts on affected communities, improve altitude enforcement and consider alternative routes, such as an all-water route over the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr. Zeldin secured a bicameral agreement that was expected to pass the bill before FAA funding expired Sept. 30. But the necessary floor time needed in the Senate was hard to come by last week given the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Instead, the Senate passed a short-term reauthorization bill to fund necessary FAA functions like air traffic control while extending the deadline to Oct. 7.

It was ultimately passed Tuesday.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Mr. Zeldin and Democratic representatives Grace Meng of Queens and Thomas Suozzi of Glen Cove, was approved by the House in April by a vote of 393-13 and now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law. 

The measure will require the FAA to hold public hearings about the route in impacted communities and open a public comment period.

“I applaud my Senate colleagues for passing my proposal that requires the FAA to reassess the North Shore Route and pursue an all water route over the Atlantic Ocean,” Mr. Zeldin said in a press release, adding that the concerns of residents have been ignored for years. “Finally, the FAA is forced to listen.”

Despite the delayed vote, the legislation’s passage is welcome news after another summer of helicopter traffic.

“I applaud this bipartisan effort to finally bring relief to Riverhead residents,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said in a statement.

North Fork residents have said the route brings frequent and unwanted noise to the area.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the route has become a quality of life issue.

“Southold has become a doormat to the helicopter operators as they head to and from the Hamptons,” he said in a statement calling for action.

The route dates back to 2012, when the FAA ruled that helicopters are required to fly over Long Island Sound and around Orient Point rather than fly over houses.

But pilots are allowed to deviate from the route due to safety or weather conditions, or when transitioning to a destination.

In response, both Riverhead and Southold towns formed task forces on helicopter noise, citing that helicopters frequently fly over the North Fork while heading to the South Shore.

The route was extended in 2014 and again in 2016 without consulting the public, Mr. Zeldin noted.

Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who serves as Town Board liaison to the Helicopter Noise Task Force, said Riverhead has been “inundated” by air traffic in recent years.

“It starts Thursday night and goes through Monday evening,” she said. “We have this constant barrage of helicopters — and now seaplanes — over our homes. I’m pleased to see any legislation that addresses this urgent problem,” Ms. Kent said.

She also acknowledged that community members on the task force have not stopped speaking up on the issue.

“I think some of this legislation is a reaction to that,” she said.

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