On the Waterfront, Sound, Fury and a Lawsuit

January 21, 2008 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

TIME was, the West 30th Street Heliport was of a piece with the industrial Hudson waterfront: a gritty three-block strip of tarmac that emitted a vacuum-cleaner roar at all hours. But since the creation of Hudson River Park in 1998, Chelsea residents have been complaining about the heliport, which sits within the park next to a jogging path and just north of a promenade.

Critics have called the 52-year-old landing space noisy, smelly and dangerous, singling out the diesel fumes of the helicopter engines and the buffeting wind stirred by the rotors.

“It’s just such a disruption to enjoyment of the park,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “It feels unhealthy and unsafe.”

On Dec. 13, the advocacy group Friends of Hudson River Park, along with other community groups, filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan asking that the heliport be closed. The defendants are the heliport; a tour operator known as Liberty Helicopter; and the Hudson River Park Trust, which oversees the park and is the heliport’s landlord.

The lawsuit, which refers to the heliport’s “excruciating noise and poisonous fumes,” argues that the facility is operated illegally in light of the 1998 law that created the park. That law, said Daniel Alterman, a lawyer for Friends of Hudson River Park, prohibits use of the heliport for tourist flights and requires that it be elsewhere in the park.

A representative of the Park Trust declined to comment on the matter, and the heliport operator did not return two telephone messages. But defenders of the heliport, which provides landing space for executives, tourists and public officials, have long said it is an essential element of the city infrastructure.

The strip, a narrow space stenciled with a grid of white circles, has been used since 1956, and according to city figures, it accommodates about 100 flights a day. Last year, the city considered, but never acted on, a plan to build a replacement on a pier at West 33rd Street.

Randy Mastro, a lawyer who represents Liberty Helicopter, said he hoped the lawsuit would prompt the city and state to redouble their efforts to save the heliport.

“This litigation has the potential to have dire consequences for the future of the heliport,” Mr. Mastro said. “It should motivate those who care about the heliport’s future operations to take action.”

By ALEX MINDLIN

NY Times

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