Letter to the Editor: Give Peace (and Quiet) A Chance

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Helicopter in river(3,824 people have read this as of February 15, 2016)

August 10, 2015- Letter by John Dellaportas

Some 100,000 times per year, tourist helicopters buzz Battery Park City. These flights run all day, every day, including weekends and holidays. The noise is nonstop; it is the soundtrack to our lives. For a few hundred bucks a ride, tourists get to blast our parks and promenades with a decibel-busting drone that would be illegal in any other part of the City. But these choppers exist nowhere else in the five boroughs. They are banned over land, and over the East River, and from the East or West Side Manhattan heliports. Those communities had the political pull to push the choppers out of their skies – and into ours.

Now, at long last, comes our turn. Our local City Councilperson, Margaret Chin, and two of her colleagues have introduced a bill to ban these tourist flights. Supporting the bill is Stop the Chop NYNJ (www.StoptheChopNYNJ.org), a local, 2500-member strong grassroots organization dedicated to stopping these egregious polluters. But despite the bill’s merit, the outcome is far from certain. The for-profit helicopter operators, who make tens of millions of dollars a year plying this tourist trade, have launched a high-priced lobbying campaign to convince the City Council that this is much ado about nothing. They have even created an organization to promote their cause, the laughingly named “Helicopters Matter.”

In their own, awful way, helicopters do matter. They erode our quality of life. They contaminate our environment with noise and toxic air emissions, pollution made all the worse by the FAA requirement that these choppers fly extra low to keep out of airplane flight paths. (A few years ago, one of them broadsided a passing plane in front of Chelsea Piers, killing nine.) Studies have shown that low-flying helicopter noise can slow brain development in young children. One neighbor has told me that the choppers regularly set off her hearing aids. Another, a returning war veteran, has told me that these flights trigger his PTSD. Local mothers have noted that the flights awaken their babies from daytime naps. One neighbor has aptly characterized the noise as akin to “a lawnmower in my living room.”

It was not always this way. When my wife and I first moved to this lovely community more than twenty years ago, it seemed like a Garden of Eden. Lush parks, open spaces, clean sidewalks – it was everything the rest of the City was not. Most of all, it was quiet. Following 9/11, however, when we returned home following that enormous tragedy, we noticed new, uninvited guests in our midst: low-flying helicopters. We first assumed them to be law enforcement. They were not. As we later came to learn, these were private helicopters, giving sightseeing tours of the still-smoldering disaster site, at a time before all of the bodies had even been recovered. Ghoulish “disaster tourism” had come to BPC.

In the ensuing decade and a half, the problem has metastasized. Downtown Manhattan Heliport on Wall Street – the source of all of these flights – is now the busiest heliport in all the world. As the flights have gotten more frequent, the helicopter operators have grown richer, and their political pull has increased. According to local news reports, the Mayor has already met with their lobbyist, even while he is refusing to meet with Stop the Chop.

Some say this is all just part of the hustle and bustle of city life, and we should either get over it or move away. That is narrow-minded. A truly diverse city should welcome different kinds of communities, some loud and exciting but others calm and contemplative. One of BPC’s appeals is that it is not in the thick of things. In exchange for its distance from many of the City’s cultural, culinary and other offerings, BPC promises its residents a distinct New York experience – a breezy, leafy, peaceful respite from the City at large.

For those who believe that this BPC has a value worth preserving, our moment is at hand. The days ahead will determine whether our voices will finally be heard over the din. Fortunately, there is a way for all of us to help. It costs nothing and takes just a few minutes. First, click this link (https://www.stopthechopnynj.org/how-you-can-help.html) and fill out the form, which will transmit a message of support to the entire City Council. Then, forward this link to your friends and neighbors, and ask them to do the same.

Of course, curing the tourist copter curse will not singlehandedly restore BPC to its Edenic state. Recent years have brought numerous other challenges, which the pending City Council bill will not address. But it is a first step; a chance to tell City Hall that we matter, more so than helicopters. In recent years, our community has made too many compromises, and suffered too many retreats. No more; the line must be drawn here. Let us clear the air of these parasites. If we can do that, then the sky, quite literally, will be our limit.

John Dellaportas

21-Year Resident of Rector Place

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