Southolders are used to living next to farms, but they live with the dust and the noise because they know farms are essential to the town. They’re used to limousines that make the rounds of wineries, but they put up with them because they provide jobs for people who live in town.
But what they’re not willing to put up with, says Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, is the constant barrage of helicopter traffic that passes over Southold en route to the East Hampton Airport.
“There’s no such benefit for the cost of this air traffic that’s invading our public spaces,” he said at a town-sponsored public forum on helicopter noise at the Peconic Lane Recreation Center Monday night. “This is not a problem of our making. It’s made by others, for the benefit of others.”
“Southold has become a doormat to East Hampton and the problem with doormats is they’re meant to be walked on,” he added. “It needs to stop.”
Mr. Russell is collecting names and email addresses of people in Southold who want to serve on a committee on helicopter noise, but he’s not looking for five or seven people to sit on the committee, he said, he’s looking for 500 to 700 people whose concerns he wants to bring to East Hampton’s attention.
“They had no problem telling me how they feel about the deer cull,” he said of the onslaught of correspondence Southold received from animal rights activists on the South Fork when Southold hired USDA sharpshooters to thin the town’s deer herd this past winter. “I want to return the favor.”
Representatives from Congressman Tim Bishop and senators Kirstin Gillibrand and Charles Schumer’s offices were all on hand to hear complaints, but few in the audience seemed impressed with their work on the issue, or with the fact that the representatives themselves were not there.
The federal lawmakers had successfully pushed the FAA two years ago to instate the nation’s first-ever mandatory helicopter flight path, over the Long Island Sound one mile offshore at an altitude of 2,500 feet.
The problem with that flight path, though, is that it has no bearing on where the helicopters fly on their final approach to the airport. Currently, most begin to turn inland and descend just west of the Mattituck Inlet, crossing Cutchogue and New Suffolk before they cross the Peconic Bays and hit the communities of Noyac and Sag Harbor.
The federal lawmakers are currently pushing the FAA to change that flight path to require that helicopters round Orient Point before beginning their final descent.
County Legislator Al Krupski, a farmer in Cutchogue, said he saw a slew of helicopters over his field just that morning, a Monday morning when helicopters begin flying return trips from East Hampton to Manhattan.
He said late last week, he and his wife Mary went to the beach to watch the super moon rise over the South Fork. Instead, he said, he saw what looked like insects hatching on the horizon, as helicopters rose out of the ground and their lights spread over the South Fork.
State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo lives in New Suffolk, “right under the red arrow,” he said, of helicopter traffic heading to East Hampton.
“My windows rattle at 7 a.m. and my kids get up,” he said. “It’s an interesting alarm clock.”
John Skabry of Peconic has lived in the same house on Henry Lane for 43 years, but in the past six or seven years, he said, he can’t even sit in his backyard or enjoy church on a Sunday due to the helicopter racket.
He said when he sees the helicopters flying over his house, all he thinks of is “a senator or congressman coming back from the Hamptons with satchels of money” to be re-elected.
Mr. Skabry said he thinks the EPA should regulate helicopter noise, not the FAA.
“The FAA’s job is to promote aviation, period,” he said, adding that he believes all helicopters en route to the South Fork should be re-routed to the Montauk airport, where they will spend most of their time flying over water.
“I don’t know. These seem like simple solutions to me,” he said.
Paula Daniel of Peconic said she’s seen helicopters fly so low that she’s grabbed her children and ran because she was afraid of a crash.
Bob Malafronte of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee made the trip to the North Fork to beg residents to travel to East Hampton to make their concerns known to the new town board there.
East Hampton has in the past taken FAA grant money for improvements to its airport, which restricts the town’s ability to regulate the air traffic that uses the airport, but these so-called “grant assurances” are slated to expire at the end of this year.
“I very sorry we didn’t reach out a long time ago,” said Mr. Malafronte, who described the helicopter noise where he lives as abusive.
“If this was spousal abuse, would you say, you can hit me a couple days a week?” he asked. “It’s enough. Ban them completely from this area or send them around over Orient Point.”
Mr. Malafronte said he believes the new East Hampton Town Board will listen to North Forkers’ concerns.
“In the last 15 to 20 years, they have just destroyed the East End of Long Island,” he said of former East Hampton Town Boards, adding that, in the past, East Hampton’s relationship with the FAA has been like an addict’s relationship with a drug dealer.
“They are like spoiled drug addicts that can’t take no for an answer anymore,” he said. “It’s not easy to stop children that are out of control, but the new town board is listening. We would like to see a complete ban on helicopters there. That’s what we’re working for.”
“The board is open. We’re almost positive they want to do something good. We just don’t know what it is,” he added.
Quiet Skies Coalition Chair Kathy Cunningham, who lives in East Hampton, also urged Southolders to take a trip to the South Fork.
“We need you over there,” she said, offering donuts to anyone who comes to share their concerns with the East Hampton Town Board. “The tool in your toolbox is the East Hampton Town Board’s policy.”