Heights residents: Helicopter chop doesn’t cut deep enough

Heights residents: Helicopter chop doesn’t cut deep enough
Photo by Jason Speakman

The city’s recent deal to halve the number of sightseeing choppers clattering across the East River is a cop out that doesn’t take enough copters out, say Brooklyn Heights residents.

Pols are hailing the reduction as a win for waterfront residents, but locals say that is all spin — they’ll still have to put up with frequent cacophonous copters, and the bargain may have undercut their efforts to nix the flights altogether.

“I don’t think it’s a win for the people, I think it’s a big loss,” said Heights resident Craig Abruzzo, vice president of anti-tour-chopper group Stop the Chop.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation — which owns the Heights-adjacent Manhattan heliport where the joyrides take flight, and reaps $2.9 million a year in rent — unexpectedly announced the closed-door compromise with operators on Friday, in an effort to preempt a bill currently under consideration by Council that would scramble the eggbeaters for good.

Under the accord, operators will halve the 60,000 annual tours that leave the heliport by January next year, scrap all flights on Sundays and over Governor’s Island within two months, and provide regular reports on nearby air quality, according to the corporation.

But for Abruzzo, that just means helicopters will now only buzz past around every five minutes Monday to Friday, rather than every few minutes every day of the week, he said.

“It sounds good on paper but if you look at the numbers, they were just so horrible before and now they’re just reasonably horrible,” he said.

Local pols who backed the total ban nevertheless celebrated the settlement — bill co-author Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Red Hook) among them — with some claiming they are still committed to completely axing the autogyros in the long run.

“For the first time in years, we can say that some steps are being taken to reduce helicopter traffic,” said a joint statement from a coalition of city leaders including Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill), Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), and state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights). “We will continue to advocate to stop the chop once and for all to ensure relief for our communities with a full ban.”

But many Heights residents — who have been fighting the rotocopter racket for years — feel blindsided by the secretive negotiations, and believe the deal was hammered out with only the two parties’ interests in mind, according to the leader of a local civic group.

“They are very disappointed about this agreement,” said Peter Bray, president of the influential Brooklyn Heights Association. “We feel the community position on these helicopter operations was ignored in any negotiations between the city elected officials and the helicopter industry.”

And Abruzzo, who says his high-profile activist group also had no idea about the deal, worries it could thwart the momentum of the movement for good.

“I think people will think the issue is resolved and that makes it harder for the people affected to make any progress,” he said.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill