Lookout, below! Choppers over Heights could actually cause brain damage

The Brooklyn Paper
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Could it be that Brooklyn Heights has finally won the battle of the chopper blades?

For months, residents have been covering their ears at the recent upswing of tourist helicopters flying over the area — all coming from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport on that other island.

But now the Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the chopper pad, says it is “looking at options” to put a stop to the chop.

That move comes after rising complaints from Heights residents — plus users of the newly opened (and expensive to build) Brooklyn Bridge Park portion on Pier 1 — piled up faster than the injury reports coming from the playground in the new park.

“You can often see four or five helicopters in the air, and another five or six idling on the [Manhattan] pad,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Drew Burchenal. “The helicopters zoom right overhead like a scene out of ‘Apocalypse Now.’ ”

Some blame the weather, some blame the pilot-alluring opening of Pier 1, and some blame the phasing-out of the W. 30th Street Heliport in Manhattan, which sent all the chopper traffic to the downtown location on the East River.

The EDC blames several factors. For one, April is the second-busiest month, behind December, for helicopter tours (only $800 a pop!). Last April, nearly 3,000 tour helicopters landed in the city alone — and now the only helipad left is taking the brunt of those landings.

The city had more than 25,000 helicopter landings last year.

“[We want to] address the concerns associated with the downtown [Manhattan] heliport,” said EDC spokesman David Lombino.

Regardless, the incessant “roaring” that locals say is a “war-zone atmosphere” has prompted local elected officials, such as Councilman Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) and state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn Heights), to rally last week to urge the city to cut down on tourist chopper landings in Manhattan.

But is the noise so bad? Heights residents and visitors disagree.

“There’s white noise all around — this is New York,” said Ann Geismar, who pointed to the Manhattan highways, construction workers, and boats around her on the Promenade. “With all that, the helicopters themselves are not particularly noticeable.”

Still, the fly-by frequency is high. Our staff parked itself at the foot of Old Fulton Street near the entrance to the new portion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and found tourist choppers in the sky — sometimes several at the same time — every five minutes.

What’s worse, Fort Greene noise expert George Prochnik — who literally wrote the book on noise pollution — said the frequency is the real problem.

“Studies indicate that it is irrelevant how easily you can physically hear the noise, compared to what the physiological impacts are,” Prochnik told The Brooklyn Paper. “It doesn’t matter if you feel like, ‘I can tough this out’ — your body doesn’t know that.”

Prochnik added that the helicopter traffic on top of your average “white noise” can lead to slower brain development in children, and eventually brain damage if not curtailed early.

“We’ve seen situations where people were asleep and weren’t woken by the noise, yet all the stress markers in the body elevate,” he said. “Ultimately, there’s also an increased risk for heart attacks. This is not about your ears anymore.”

It’s unclear whether the city and federal aviation officials will respond with quiet hours or cutting takeoffs at helicopter pads on the waterfront. No one got back to us before our whirring deadline.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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