Volume 77, Number 3 - January 2 - 8, 2008
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Trust must clip heliport’s wings

In a long-overdue move, the Friends of Hudson River Park and other waterfront advocates have sued the Hudson River Park Trust to force the W. 30th St. Heliport’s relocation.

That this copter pad is noisy, with noxious fumes, is no secret. Passing cyclists and joggers on the bikeway are forced daily to suck down the helicopters’ unhealthy fuel exhaust, while being buffeted by the din of thunderous takeoffs and landings. According to the lawsuit, readings on the bike path by the heliport are 20 to 40 decibels above the legal limit. Readings as far as 150 feet away even exceed safe decibel levels, the suit says.

With as many as 100 flights a day, the copters often roar low along the river, disrupting parkgoers’ and nearby residents’ peace and enjoyment. That 70 percent of these are nonessential tourist flights is simply outrageous.

Even more offensive, though, is that the heliport is illegal — yet for the last six years the Trust has ignored the situation.

The completion a year ago of the park’s Chelsea North section, which now abuts the helipad, makes the matter urgent, the lawsuit states.

The Hudson River Park Act of 1998, which created the 5-mile-long park and the Trust, permits a heliport for commercial and emergency purposes, but not for tourist or recreational uses. Specifically, the act prohibits any heliport east of the shoreline — which is exactly where the heliport is.

An affidavit by Albert Butzel, the Friends’ outgoing president, implies that James Ortenzio, the Trust’s former chairperson, is responsible for the Trust’s continuing a month-to-month lease with Air Pegasus, the heliport’s operator, since 2001. Butzel notes that Ortenzio and the Trenk family, who own and operate Air Pegasus, have a close relationship, and that Ortenzio recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion related to $80,000 Air Pegasus paid him for consulting.

The Trust’s inertia may also be to blame. Following Butzel’s May letter demanding the heliport’s shutdown, the Trust’s president, Connie Fishman, responded that the authority would issue a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for heliport operators for Pier 72 at W. 32nd St. — a legal site, she said. No R.F.P. was issued.

The lawsuit now seeks an injunction compelling the Trust to stop Air Pegasus’s operations.

That the Friends, the park’s leading advocacy group, in an “unfriendly action,” have sued the Trust is ironic — but, apparently, it was necessary.

Bottom line — the heliport must be moved onto a pier — preferably to the pier’s very end, as far as possible from park users and residents.

Heliports serve an important role for the city in terms of security and emergency uses and even commuting. But tourist copters must relocate to less densely populated areas, such as a New Jersey industrial waterfront spot. We don’t need them on our shore — much less in our great new park.

Such tourist helicopters benefit comparatively few people at a great many others’ expense. The cost in terms of environmental, air and noise pollution is not one we should have to bear.

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