The Town Hall meeting room was filled to capacity Oct. 1 for a forum on helicopter noise. Photo: Denise Civiletti

One thing was clear by the end of a public forum on helicopter noise last night at Riverhead Town Hall: North Fork residents fed up with the impacts of a Manhattan-East Hampton flight path that takes helicopters over their homes thousands of times each summer should not expect relief any time soon.

Angry residents and elected officials last night pressed Eastern Region Helicopter Council vice president Jeff Smith to ask the council to adopt an all-water route from Manhattan to East Hampton, flying off shore and around Plum Island — rather than “transitioning” across the North Fork en route to their Hamptons destination.

Although he reiterated that “everything is on the table” in terms of finding a solution for residents, Smith, under questioning by Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, eventually acknowledged he does not favor the all-water route and would not recommend the helicopter council adopt it for next season.

Under questioning by Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, Eastern Region Helicopter Council Vice President Jeff Smith admitted he does not support an all-water route between NYC heliports and East Hampton airport. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The helicopter council adopts routes and rules that its member pilots voluntarily follow. The Federal Aviation Administration established a mandatory North Shore route in 2012, requiring helicopters to fly over the Long Island Sound from Manhattan to the North Fork, after which the rotorcraft can fly south to their destination — generally the East Hampton municipal airport.

This year, the helicopter council asked pilots to take the North Shore route on eastbound trips and the South Shore route on westbound trips. That arrangement split the flights — and their impacts — 50-50, Smith said. The council “abandoned” recommended transition routes in favor of this 50-50 split, Smith said.

But that means that most East Hampton-bound helicopters take the same transition route southward from the L.I. Sound. The route takes them over neighborhoods in eastern Riverhead and western Southold towns. And John Cullen of Northville, chairman of the Riverhead Helicopter Noise Task Force, said the 50-50 split is not working. Westbound helicopters are still flying over the North Fork, Cullen said.

Map showing helicopter traffic as aircraft cross the North Fork on their way to East Hampton airport .

Smith said the South Shore route “has its complications,” including more air traffic and worse weather than the North Shore.

“We live through this for seven minutes of flight time on a 40-minute run,” said Jamesport resident Robert Skinner, referring to the extra time it would take for a helicopter to fly east around Plum Island before heading south. “We’re told it’s not about the money. If it’s not about the money, what is it?”

The helicopter pilots are supposed to maintain a minimum altitude of 2,500 feet per the FAA rule, unless cloud cover requires a lower altitude for safety.

Eastern Region Helicopter Council vice president Jeff Smith at the Oct. 1 helicopter noise forum in Riverhead. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“People coming out to East Hampton are at 3,500 feet,” Smith asserted last night. The standing room-only crowd packed into the town hall meeting room erupted in protest.

According to residents who took the podium — echoing complaints that have been voiced for more than a decade — pilots regularly fly at much lower altitudes, disrupting the lives of people who live in their path with engine and rotor noise and vibration.

Garrett Armwood, Sen. Chuck Schumer’s L.I. regional director, said the senator urges the council to adopt an all-water route along the North Shore.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell followed Armwood to the podium and pushed back. He said the helicopter issue was created by the adoption of the North Shore route, which Schumer advocated.

“The words of your boss ring hollow,” Russell said. “Schumer put pressure on the FAA to create the North Shore route. He can do something about it. Schumer created the route to push the noise away from the western areas of Long Island. He sacrificed the East End,” Russell said.

Armwood replied that the senator has always supported an all-water route.

“If your boss is serious about an all water route, have him come out to the East End with his inflatable podium and fight for us,” Russell countered.

Smith said a flight path around Orient Point creates two “noise points” — one going east and one west around the tip of the island, as the helicopters make a 340-degree turn, he said.

Mark Woolley, district manager for Rep. Lee Zeldin, said North Fork residents want helicopters to fly the South Shore route because their destination is the South Fork. “Transitioning should take place over Georgica Pond not he South Shore Route,” Woolley said. “You talk about flying neighborly — well, here’s your neighbors,” he said, gesturing to the audience.

Quiet skies advocate Teresa McCaskie complains about lack of progress on noise issue over the last decade. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Teresa McCaskie of Mattituck, a member of the Southold Helicopter Noise Task Force and an outspoken opponent helicopter traffic over the North Fork, also argued that the South Shore Route should be made mandatory. The helicopter traffic has worsened and now is compounded by an increase in sea plane traffic, she said.

“The volume has got to stop. It can’t continue to happen to people that are working hard, people who are citizens and taxpayers here. I’ve had 11 years of fighting this battle, the abuse we’ve all been subjected to,” McCaskie said. “The transition routes are no longer acceptable — at all.”

Legislator Al Krupski said he agreed with McCaskie. “This is like Ground Hog Day,” he said. “Everyone kind of feels the same way and it’s the same complaints. We don’t get any benefits from the helicopter traffic. We just get dumped on by the noise. There’s no need for us to bear the burden of this kind of traffic, period.”

“I live under a bulls-eye,” said Jim Underwood of Laurel. He said he has filed 666 noise complaints since July 19.

“The people in this room are victims of an industry that’s run amok.”

“For 17 years, I lived in a quiet country home. The last three years it has become helicopter hell,” Underwood said. “This is just insanity… It’s 495 in the sky…The people in this room are victims of an industry that’s run amok.”

Linda Prizer, president of the Northville Beach Civic Association, said, “We are unfortunately the stepchild of the princess South Fork and we have to all recognize that they are the ones with the power and the money and we have to do something about it. We’re starting to organize.” She said the 50-50 split is “simply incorrect.” Prizer said she sees helicopters flying in a northwest direction all the time.

Mike Foley of Riverhead advocated ‘civil disobedience,’ to protest helicopter traffic. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Mike Foley of Riverhead called for “civil disobedience” to get the attention of the helicopter association, suggesting that residents protest the air traffic by shining a light in the sky every time a helicopter flies over their property. Smith told him people could go to jail for doing that.

“What other choice do we have but civil disobedience,” Foley asked. He said the helicopter pilot could take the all-water route, which he said would add nine minutes to their flight, and raise their prices to “keep their margins.” The extra cost is not going to matter to their customers, Foley said.

“This is the 1% versus the 99%, these are the people of privilege flying over us, burdening us,” he said. “The extra $200 is not a big deal. It’s tip money at the golf club.”

Many, including McCaskie, called for the closure of the East Hampton Town airport, the primary destination of the helicopter traffic over the North Fork. East Hampton Town is obligated to keep the airport open until 2021, when its FAA grant assurances expire. The East Hampton Town Board has discussed its options, but has not yet made any decisions, according to news reports.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the town board liaison to the town’s helicopter noise task force, said the town’s “first priority is and has always been safety.” Residents have “logged millions of complaints,” Kent said. “Enough already. Implement a South Shore route for helicopters heading to the South Fork airports.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.