Editor’s Note: Both the FAA and Senator Schumer’s office have since refuted Mr. Zeldin’s claim, and Mr. Zeldin has since issued a statement saying he hopes to work with Mr. Schumer on their shared goals. Our most recent coverage is online here.
After meeting this morning with about a dozen representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration about the four-year extension of the North Shore helicopter route sprung on the North Fork earlier this summer, Congressman Lee Zeldin says he’s learned that U.S. Senator Charles Schumer was behind the quiet extension of the experiment that has made the North Fork’s skies far noisier.
Mr. Zeldin made the announcement flanked by Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and several members of both towns’ boards at a press conference at Riverhead Town Hall Monday afternoon.
Mr. Zeldin, a Republican, said that, in a the meeting with North Fork elected officials Monday morning, the FAA representatives said they agreed to extend the North Shore route due to “political pressure” and that Mr. Schumer, a powerful Senate Democratic leader, was aware of the plan 30 days prior to it being published in the Federal Register.
Mr. Zeldin and local lawmakers found out about the extension just two days before it was published.
“Senator Schumer has long supported and fought for an all-over-water North Shore helicopter route that extends the current route past Orient Point and around Plum Island, as well as the establishment of an all-over-water south shore route,” said his spokeswoman, Marisa Kaufman, Monday afternoon. “He strongly urged the FAA to expand the current north shore route to help the thousands of East End residents who are continuously burdened by the constant drone of helicopter noise. He will continue to side with concerned residents to ensure their voices are heard.”
She added that Mr. Schumer urged the FAA in a letter earlier this summer to extend the helicopter route past Orient Point.
Mr. Zeldin said he learned from the conversation with FAA administrators that the decision to extend the rule was made out of the Washington office, not the regional FAA office, and that FAA officials said they viewed the grievances of North Forkers overcome by helicopter noise as “acceptable and equitable” consequences of the rule.
The North Shore helicopter route, the first mandatory helicopter route in the nation, was first enacted on a trial basis in 2012, and was renewed for two years in 2014. It was re-upped for four more years in early August, just as it was due to expire.
The rule, which Mr. Schumer had touted for years as the solution to the North Shore’s helicopter noise problems, requires helicopters to travel one mile off shore at a height of at least 2,500 feet over the north shore of Long Island.
While it has proved helpful to North Shore residents on western Long Island, it only exists between Huntington and Riverhead, and does not apply to helicopters on their final approach to the East Hampton airport, where they cross over the North Fork.
Mr. Zeldin said North Forkers now have just three potential sources of recourse — to either petition the FAA to make the North Shore route extend eastward past Orient Point, to enact legislation withholding funding from the FAA until the rule is withdrawn or amended (a difficult scenario without a companion bill in the U.S. Senate) or to file a lawsuit against the federal government.
Mr. Zeldin also said the FAA should immediately get to work on designating a South Shore route to the East Hampton airport.
“The calls of the public and local representatives have been flatly ignored,” he said. “The FAA is treating the public as if they are the enemy.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he believes members of the public should march on the offices of Senator Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
“The only way we’re going to get their attention is to reach out and peacefully protest,” he said. “Senator Schumer negotiated in secret with the FAA. Senator Gillibrand needs to step up and weigh in on this issue.”
Riverhead Councilman Tim Hubbard said he’d been in touch with Senator Gillibrand’s office, and was told they were putting in legislation that the EPA be the lead agency when dealing with airport noise, which to him seemed to be a stalling tactic.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said that in earlier meetings with FAA representatives, “we asked questions and got blank stares. Today we got answers and they angered me no end.”
Mr. Russell added that, each time the North Shore route was extended, the FAA hadn’t done the five studies that were required to be done before it was enacted. But when he asked why the South Shore route hasn’t been seriously considered, he said he was told the reason was because the necessary studies hadn’t been done.
Mr. Russell added that, prior to this morning’s meeting, he believed Mr. Schumer had given “every indication that he was working against the extension.”
Mr. Zeldin added that FAA representatives told him the studies should be done by 2017, all the more reason to not have extended the route by four years at this time.
“What was said today was disappointing, but not a surprise,” said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski. “The bumper sticker says it all: ‘If You’re Flying to the South Fork, Fly Over the South Fork.'”
In an odd coincidence, both Senators Schumer and Gillibrand announced in a joint press release Monday morning that they’d garnered $1 million in federal funding for four regional airports in New York’s Southern Tier.