Romaine’s helicopter bill is defeated


A bill authored by Legislator Edward Romaine under which Suffolk County would establish a minimum cruising altitude of 2,500 feet for helicopters flying in the county was narrowly defeated by the legislature this week.

The measure was aimed at diminishing the noise of helicopters taking passengers to and from Manhattan and the Hamptons—a major source of noise on eastern Long Island in recent times.

After the bill went down with only eight lawmakers in favor, nine opposed and one abstention, Mr. Romaine, told his fellow legislators: “This is not going to go away.”

“Next time, I’ll bring the people,” he said, referring to people affected by the noise who have come to meetings of the Suffolk Legislature in substantial numbers complaining about the helicopter noise and supporting his bill.

Mr. Romaine also announced that he would be asking the legislature’s counsel to re-draft the measure and have it ready for him to reintroduce when the legislature resumes meeting in January. Tuesday’s meeting was the last for 2008.

There was no debate before the vote, but when the bill was considered in committee some of the same legislators who voted against it said they were convinced that the county was pre-empted by the federal government in regulating air traffic. That has been the argument of an official of the Federal Aviation Administration, a representative of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council and helicopter pilots who have testified before the legislature.

Mr. Romaine, however, has cited New York City and New York State rules on the altitude at which helicopters can fly and laws in other areas of the nation as precedents.

Under the Romaine bill, it would have been “unlawful to operate, or for the owner to permit the operation, of any type of helicopter over the legal limits of the County of Suffolk.” There would have been be a fine of up to $1,000 plus one year in prison per offense.

The bill declared that “low-flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County” and a voluntary agreement worked out between Congressman Tim Bishop and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and helicopter operators earlier in the year “has failed to alleviate the public nuisance.” It went on to charge that the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation of helicopters.”

“The purpose of this law is to establish a minimum altitude for the operation of helicopters passing through the air boundaries of Suffolk County,” it said, “and to preserve and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of Suffolk County without prohibiting the safe passage of helicopters.”

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