Equal Time: The perception and reality of helicopters
Joe Werkmeister’s column last week seemingly downplaying the impact of helicopter noise on the North Fork was an interesting take on the subject. I’m sure that he’s not the only person in town who doesn’t understand the impact helicopter noise can have on the neighborhoods directly under the flight path. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a problem until town Supervisor Scott Russell passed a comment at a meeting one day a couple years ago that helicopter noise was the number one complaint he gets in Town Hall.
Frankly, I didn’t realize there was a problem because the helicopters don’t fly over my neighborhood on a routine basis. That being said, I do know a little about the impact of overhead noise. From the ages of 10 until 16, I lived in Holbrook directly under a flight path to MacArthur Airport. Later, my wife and I bought our first home about two miles away from the Calverton Grumman facility, where F-14 fighter jets routinely flew overhead. I’ve experienced the noise, the vibration and the thumping of aircraft firsthand and I will say that, like so many things in life, perception is indeed reality.
As a boy, my perception of the tremendous noise from a passenger jet was fascinating curiosity and wonderment. Virtually every time one flew overhead, I had to stop what I was doing to look up with amazement at a giant flying wonder of man’s own making that was both ferocious and gently floating in the air at the same time, seemingly within reach of the balls I would throw up trying to hit the oh-so-close behemoth above me. That perception was my childhood’s imagination-fed reality.
As an adult, whenever the F-14 or AWACS planes would fly by toward Grumman, I’d once again marvel at their symmetry, beauty and unbelievable power, both in their velocity and vertical force, and what I knew to be awesome fighting ability.
Of course, after a while, and especially at night, these birds of wonder, more often than not, became a nuisance to my family when they woke us up with frightening shaking of our beds or the boom of an F-14 leaving the airfield. Whether or not they were supposed to create a sonic boom over land, I’ll never forget the time I was awakened by a sonic boom, the likes of which no clap of thunder ever startled me with. It took an hour for me to calm down. My reality changed in a hurry.
Now, Mr. Werkmeister’s perception might be that the reaction to the helicopters (and lately, seaplanes) is a tad overplayed, and to a certain extent he may be right in that there may be some hyperbole in the stories some tell. However, I can tell you that the 300-plus people I saw and the folks I spoke with at the special meeting of the East Hampton Town Board last week have had a different experience. Testimony included concerns about health risks to humans, effects of the noise and vibrations on mating wildlife, detrimental changes to property values under flight paths, challenges to the local economy and the “us vs. them” argument that the helicopters are being thrust upon the local masses at the whim of the privileged few who can afford the fastest way to and from their multimillion-dollar East Hampton retreats.
Yet, in fact, the main focus that brought people together from all around the East End was the overwhelming idea that in the end, all we really want is a little peace and quiet. And is that too much to ask when most of us have to work so hard just to afford the taxes we pay to live on the East End? Again, the people’s perception is the people’s reality. And they are fed up.
For the record, I believe the protest is justified. While I heard many comments about how increased helicopter traffic is such a complex issue for the FAA and East Hampton to deal with, it seems to me that a simple answer exists. And sometimes the simple answer is the best answer. In this case, requiring flight paths to stay over the water and fly around Orient Point is the simple answer. It might also be the best answer.
Though while I think it is, not everyone agrees, especially the pilots who will have to travel an extra 60 miles to go around Orient. However, this is where “good” government can make a difference, to actually force decision-makers to do exactly that — make a decision. Not always a simple thing to do, especially when those decision-makers are not personally vested in the affected communities.
That’s why here in Southold, Supervisor Russell has lobbied the FAA, federal and state elected officials, and the East Hampton leaders. With Supervisor Russell, as well as others on the Town Board, I support making the case for the best solution for the most people, Southolders especially.
What I and many others believe is the best solution is also the simple solution. And while that is most definitely my perception, let’s hope it becomes our reality.
Mr. Ghosio is a member of the Southold Town Board. He lives in Mattituck.