Local politicians announced the filing of the complaint at Southold Town Hall Tuesday.
Local politicians announced the filing of the complaint at Southold Town Hall Tuesday.

Southold Town has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration over that agency’s decision to extend the mandatory north shore helicopter route for four more years. 

The complaint, known as a “Petition for Rulemaking,” argues that the abrupt decision this past summer to extend the controversial helicopter flight path “deprived Southold and the public of their right to notice and opportunity to be heard,” and violated the direction of a Presidential Executive Order requiring the FAA to consult with Southold lawmakers before extending the route.

Politicians from Southold and Riverhead town, along with state and county legislators from both the North and South forks announced the filing of the complaint in a press conference at Southold Town Hall Tuesday morning.

Southold's airport attorney Jim Harmon.
Southold’s aviation attorney Jim Harmon.

The town’s counsel on airport issues, Jim Harmon, said there is no rational basis for continuing the North Shore route if it hasn’t reduced helicopter noise on the North Fork.

The FAA’s North Shore Route, which requires helicopters to travel one mile offshore at a height of at least 2,500 feet over the north shore of Long Island, was greeted with great fanfare when it first became mandatory in 2012, touted by lawmakers as a solution to helicopter noise on Long Island.

But the rule only applies between Huntington and Riverhead, after which helicopters cross over the North Fork on their final approach to the East Hampton’s municipal airport in Wainscott.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold has decided to file this complaint, instead of suing the FAA, because “we expect it to be acted on in Southold’s favor.”

While the FAA is required to respond to the complaint, Mr. Harmon said there are no FAA rules that says when they have to respond.

Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who serves as liaison to Riverhead’s new helicopter task force, said Riverhead is anticipating joining the complaint.

“Riverhead is a recent newcomer to this,” he said. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

South Fork representatives State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and County Legislator Bridget Fleming both said that it’s important for both the North Fork community and the FAA to realize that the East End as a whole is tired of helicopter noise.

“We want to let the feds know we’re united on a local level,” said Ms. Fleming, who added that near her home in Noyac, many people have bumper stickers saying the official bird of Noyac is a helicopter.

“We get this, and we’re with you,” she said.

Mr. Thiele said Southold is uniquely situated to bring the complaint against the FAA, and added that a recent court ruling striking down East Hampton Town’s new noise regulations is all the more reason for the East End to stand together.

“The trend with the FAA and the federal courts is eroding the concept of home rule. East Hampton’s right to control their own property was taken away by the court,” he said. “What Southold is doing is extremely important to protect home rule. Special interests would like nothing better than to divide and conquer us.”

North Fork State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo agreed.

“These are situations where people are absolutely offended by the government,” he said. “These are problems that really outrage people. The coalition of the North Fork and South Fork just coalesced recently. That’s important. When you have a collective voice, you get heard.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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