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FAA Silent On Helicopter Noise Petition; Zeldin Demands Answers

January 26, 2017
In The News

SOUTHOLD, NY — It's been two months since Southold Town filed a petition regarding the extension of the controversial North Shore Helicoper Route with the Federal Aviation Administration — and so far, the town has received no response.

When the complaint was filed, attorney Jim Harmon, who serves as special counsel to the Southold Town board on the issue, said the FAA must respond within 30 days.

But there's been silence.

And now, Congressman Lee Zeldin is demanding answers from the FAA.

Zeldin sent a letter this week to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta, requesting an immediate response to the petition that was filed by the Town of Southold on November 15, 2016, regarding the FAA’s August 2016 extension of the New York North Shore Helicopter Route.

“It has been well over two months since the Town of Southold filed an important petition with the FAA regarding the abrupt August 2016 extension of the New York North Shore Helicopter Route (NSR), which was done without public input or consultation with local leaders. The Town of Southold has yet to receive a response from the FAA," he said.

He added, “The FAA must respond immediately to Southold and reopen a docket on the NSR to address the nontransparent nature in which the four year extension was issued last August. If this is not completed immediately, I will renew my call in earnest for the immediate replacement of the Administrator. The people of the North Fork of Long Island continue to have their quality of life, property values, and local economy impacted by aircraft noise and the actions of the FAA, and deserve a response."

A copy of the full letter can be viewed here.

Of Zeldin's call for action, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said, "Congressman Zeldin has been an advocate for the entire East End on this issue. Because of his assertive action on this, the FAA can no longer ignore us."

In November, surrounded by elected officials representing the entire East End in a show of solidarity, Russell announced plans to take action after the FAA ruled to extend the North Shore helicopter route four years in July.

Russell announced the filing of a formal complaint with the Federal Transportation Commission; Southold Town contends that the FAA's action is in violation of federal law and executive order.

"Our position is that the FAA acted in bad faith in the action it took to extend the North Shore route," Russell said. "Further, we believe that the decision of that agency was legally defective."

Russell outlines what actions Southold will take "to ensure that our objections are heard and acted on. Every governmental agency has rules and policies it must abide by. The FAA is no exception and has to be held accountable."

Harmon spoke and said the town had opted to give the FAA a "second chance" before taking them to federal court.

"We're saying the FAA made a mistake," Harmon said.

If the FAA does not act on the opportunity, Russell and Harmon said the town will then pursue legal avenues.

In July, after the Federal Aviation Administration ruled to extend the north shore helicopter route for four years, Southold Town first suggested it would explore legal action.

Russell said the basis of the town's petition for rule was that the FAA's action was "unlawful" and "deprives Southold and the public" the opportunity to be heard. The FAA's action, he continued was "arbitrary and capricious" and violated the direction of Presidential Executive Order. Harmon said the FAA's actions were "unlawful" and said Southold had a right to be heard, with their views considered. Southold, he said, had specifically asked to weigh in, only to have the "FAA proceed arbitrarily without giving Southold the chance to say there was no reason" or basis for the extension of the North Shore route.

The petition has been filed, Harmon said, and is available for review on the town's website.

"Southold believes that a review of these issues by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit would produce a favorable outcome for Southold on each issue. Nonetheless, by this petition, Southold offers the FAA something rarely found in life. . . a second chance. Our Town urges the FAA to reconsider its ill-advised uninformed rule and, this time, do the right and proper thing with all deliberate speed," the petition reads.

Russell thanked the elected officials present as well as Teresa McCaskie of Mattituck, who has been fighting for months to help those who have seen their quality of lives shattered by helicopter noise.

"Thank you for taking the time to file your complaints, and we encourage people to continue to do so," McCaskie said. "If we do not, officials will think the problem's bene solved. And in no shape or form has the problem been solved."

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming said she appreciated the opportunity to join with Southold Town. "It's critically important that folks on the federal level understand we are united to protect our communities our quality of life." She added, "We have a bumper sticker, that the official bird of Noyac is the helicopter. We get this. We're here with you."

Southold Town Councilman Bill Ruland added, "We want to be heard."

"We are seeing a trend with the FAA and the federal court eroding the authority of home rule," New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said; most recently, that was witnessed when the federal court enjoined Town of East Hampton in regard to local legislation the town board adopted regarding curfews and helicopter noise, he said.

"The FAA was not even willing to listen to local government before perpetrating this ruling on all of us," he said. "I think what Southold is doing is extremely important to re-establish home rule powers," and protect residents from public health and safety concerns regarding excessive helicopter noise, he said.

He added that he and Fleming both turned out to support Southold Town because, "I don't think there is any question that monied interests that support helicopter interests would like to buy community against community . . . divide and conquer." The East End, he said, stands united to protect constituents.

New York State Assemblyman Tony Palumbo said, of the FAA's decision, and helicopter noise: "These are the problems that really outrage people. It's important to remember that we are somewhat of a small voice individually but collectively we have finally gotten a coalition together among towns. . .it just coalesced. When we have a collective voice, we're heard."

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski added, "If we all work together it will be a good conclusion for the East End."

"The FAA is broken," said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, adding that the solution can come either through going to federal court, with a judge fixing the matter so local control will prevail, or by through action of Congress."

All elected officials thanked Zeldin for his tireless support in regard to the helicopter noise issue.

The formal petition does not preclude Southold from taking legal steps moving forward.

The supervisor also thanked East Hampton Town for their work to address the issue and for listening to the North Fork's concerns.

The FAA did not respond to a request to comment but has said in a past interview that they would not be able to comment on ongoing litigation.