Hope for Copter Law

Posted on 24 October 2008

By Karl Grossman

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has declared that he would sign a bill authored by Legislator Edward Romaine that would—to diminish noise from helicopters taking people between Manhattan and the Hamptons—establish a minimum 2,500 foot cruising altitude for choppers over Suffolk.

But members of the Levy administration and various other fellow Democrats were going in another direction at a meeting of the legislature’s Public Works and Transportation Committee two week ago. There, in a 3-to-3 vote, the bill was blocked from going to the full legislature for a vote.

When discussion on the bill came up, the committee’s chairman, Brian Beedenbender, who until the start of the year was a Levy aide, moved immediately to table it. Legislator Steven Stern, a Democrat like Mr. Beedenbender, seconded the motion. “I’d like to know what the reasoning is behind tabling,” interjected Mr. Romaine, a Republican.

“Sure, I’ll explain,” said Mr. Beedenbender, but “before I go, Gail is there something you would like to share with us?” He was referring to Gail Lolis, a deputy county attorney in the Levy administration. She then said that the proposed law “is pre-empted” by the federal government.

“Do I get an opportunity to ask some questions?” asked Mr. Romaine, pressing Ms. Lolis on New York City and New York State laws “that govern altitude of helicopters that…have been on the books for long periods of time.”

Mr. Beedenbender jumped in to say “I don’t know how we enforce” the bill. “It’s very simple, Mr. Chairman,” said Mr. Romaine. Radar tracking that can be accessed “right on your personal computer” gives the altitude of helicopters in flight. His office has done this, said Mr. Romaine. “You sit right on a laptop and do all of this and do your enforcement through that, not a problem.”

On the pre-emption issue, Legislator John M. Kennedy, Jr., an attorney and Republican, said: “I find that when we pass legislation where there may be a question with preemption, it does seem to help…effect a positive change for out constituents.”

Legislator Dan Losquadro, also a GOPer, said, according to the official transcript of the meeting, that “like many other issues where the federal government has failed us, we take it upon ourselves to address those issues.”

But Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn raised concern “about the enforcement part…The county exec…has said publicly if the bill comes to his desk, he’ll sign.” But “how do you enforce this?” Mr. Zwirn noted that Mr. Romaine “says you can do it by computer,” but he questioned how this can be done.

“Because all of the helicopters have transponders and you can identify them on the screen,” said Mr. Romaine. “These helicopters are flying to essentially three heliports all on the East End: Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton. You can identify exactly who they are and you can trace them…And it is relatively simple to do. It’s not a huge commitment of money, and we would attempt to do that.”

Then came the vote on the measure. Legislators Romaine, Kennedy and Losquadro voted for the bill to go to the legislature and Beedenbender, Stern and Wayne Horsley voted against it. It was party-line balloting: three Republicans for, three Democrats against.

“I hope partisan politics didn’t play into the committee’s decision to vote against my bill,” said Mr. Romaine in a statement issued after the October 7th meeting,

That would, indeed, be outrageous considering that noise pollution is not a partisan issue. And the choppers have become the source of the most serious noise pollution in Suffolk.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romaine re-introduced the bill last week hoping it can get through the committee on a second try. Legislator Ricardo Montano, a Democrat but one who repeatedly breaks with his party, was absent from the committee meeting. “I was tied up at the office—but I would have voted for it if I was there,” Mr. Montano told us last week.


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