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Hello, Helipad

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[EDIT] Sorry, but I had it wrong when I described one of the locations proposed for the heliport. It's not on Fish Pier but on the pier that goes out from behind the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.

It was a packed house at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC), on Wednesday night, as the local community gathered for a public hearing on a proposal to build a heliport facility somewhere in or near the South Boston Waterfront / Seaport District / Fort Point Channel.

Approximately 150 people turned out to listen to local and state officials and to offer their own thoughts on the idea. Boston City Council President Michelle Wu was chair of the hearing, in the stead of District 1 City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, parks, recreation, and transportation chairman on the Council, who was unable to attend.

The meeting was called by City Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty, who lives in South Boston, and was in attendance, as was District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan*, who is also a resident of the neighborhood. (As am I, obv.)

The idea of building a heliport came about last year when Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officials were negotiating a package of incentives to convince General Electric (GE) to move its world headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston. Successful in its bid, the city and state are now looking for a suitable location, logically expected to be close to GE’s new building off Necco Court, in the Fort Point.

Boston had a helistop until ~1999, when it was torn down in preparation for the construction of the BCEC. There was also one on Nashua Street, apparently. Neither are around, any longer. There are five privately-owned helipads located around downtown Boston, at hospitals including Tufts Medical, Boston Medical, Brigham & Women’s, Mass General, and at the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV.

The new heliport, if built, wouldn’t be for the exclusive use by GE but by anyone willing to pay the landing fees. (Presumably, other corporations, private individuals, and local radio & TV news stations.) Helicopters used to provide tours would not be allowed, however, according to the proposal.

The first half of the meeting was filled with remarks from the city councilors (District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson arrived later, gave his comments, then departed), and information presentations by City of Boston Economic Development Chief John Barros, Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Thomas Glynn of the Massachusetts Port Authority, among others.

The audience seemed to be made up mostly of South Boston residents; namely, from the Fort Point Channel. This was obvious after Secretary Pollack announced that there were no plans to build the heliport in their neighborhood, and loud sighs of relief were heard while cheering and clapping broke out.

Pleasing everyone, the assembled officials were able to explain the differences between a helipad, helistop, and heliport (but not hellagood). A helipad is the actual landing surface that a helicopter lands on (usually with a big “H” on it). A helistop has a helipad where helicopters can land and take off, but helicopters aren’t stored there and no maintenance or refueling is performed. A heliport has a helipad for landings and takeoffs, plus a “hangar” (for lack of a better term) and facilities for maintenance and refueling. Think of a helistop as bus stop and a heliport as a bus station.

While officials at the meeting didn’t explicitly say which of the two (helistop or heliport) was the preferred type of facility, it was pretty clear to me that they’re looking to go all-in on this, with a heliport.

There will be an estimated 14 trips a day, to begin with. Which means, 14 take-offs and 14 landings, or 28 total. That seemed to surprise a lot of people, who figured it was going to be only GE and maybe a couple of other companies, each day.

Nothing final has been decided but one proposed location for the heliport would be near the Boston Fish Pier, perhaps built on the water.

EDIT: No, according to overheard projections reposted on Twitter by a DOT official, this proposed location would be at the end of the pier where the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion is currently located.

Once the officials were done with their presentations, audience members were able to go up to the podium and speak (it was a public hearing, after all). Approximately 20 people stood up. To a person, neighbors who spoke were against the proposal. The number one concern was noise, which makes sense.

While many in the audience were relieved to hear that any proposed location of the heliport would be further away from their homes than they first feared, a lot of concern was expressed by those who perceive that the city and state have been taking advantage of them, as well as those who thought the benefits of the project - financial growth - didn’t outweigh the costs - noise, inconvenience, congestion, aviation fuel odors and spillages, potential terrorist attacks (srsly).

More than one person wondered aloud why South Boston residents had to deal with broken down trains, crowded buses, and long lines while company executives would be able to hop on a helicopter for a quick ride to Logan or down to Manhattan.

One speaker toward the end pointed out that it took an hour and a half before the words “South Boston” were uttered by anyone, even though it was his neighborhood that was being affected by it. “I feel like I’m at a Benghazi hearing where they won’t utter the words ‘Radical Islam’.

A representative from the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion spoke about how having the heliport located at the Fish Market would mean the end to summer-evening performances, and to many hours of paid work by local residents. “Imagine Tony Bennett or Bonnie Raitt trying to sing over that,” he said. (Personal preference: all the better!)

Several people rose in support. Two were involved in aviation. One spoke on behalf of the New England Helicopter Council. (BREAKING: there’s something called the New England Helicopter Council; who knew?) Also, a guy who uses helicopters for medical flights, who needs a facility in-town, but not one owned by the hospitals.

I had originally expected to speak in support of the proposal, regardless of its location, but everyone’s comments had a strong effect on me, and I am now opposed.

I rose to ask several questions. I wanted to know why Logan Airport had been ruled out as a location. There was some talk of it being too expensive and also difficult since helicopters had to contend with airline traffic congestion, something that apparently won’t be a problem across Boston Harbor ... Also, will there be / has there been any conversations with the Boston Globe about their location, especially now that the newspaper is relocating and selling its land.

Then, I pointed out that having a heliport in the Seaport - sorry; South Boston Waterfront - was going to have a serious, negative effect on anyone living there, or planning on moving there. If I was working as a real estate broker with a buyer, I would say in no uncertain terms, “Don’t Buy Here”, at least not until it’s up and running and we can see what the effects will be.

No matter what mitigation is possible, it seems impossible that the heliport won’t cause inconveniences for residents of the neighborhood. Bad for potential buyers, and bad for homeowners who already live there who can’t sell because of the uncertainty. [We rent, so I’m not too concerned for myself. If the heliport was so noisy I could hear it from D Street, we’d move.]

The city has kind of cornered itself, here, in my opinion. For the past 15 years, the city’s leadership (mostly under Mayor Menino) was to turn the SBW Seaport into a “Live, Work, Play” neighborhood with a third made up of residential, a third of commercial / retail, and a third .. I don’t remember, either “parks and open space” or “other”.

Trying to make that work has turned out to be more difficult than perhaps originally expected. It’s to be expected - residents, in general, will have many more concerns than office workers or restaurant-goers. The IndyCar race imploded precisely for this reason - neighbors didn’t want to deal with the perceived negative effects, especially when they didn’t see any benefits.

Yes, most residents in the SBW Seaport realize they live in a city and that they will encounter problems / issues they wouldn’t expect if they lived in the suburbs, but things like suddenly plopping down an aircraft facility in your backyard would give anyone pause.

The state has set a deadline of the end of this year to collect public input with a location selected in January 2017. They mentioned something about a group being appointed to make the decision, although details were not provided.

*Interesting to see several attendees at the meeting. It's open gossip that District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan might be either retiring or moving on to another position with the city, opening the seat up for the first time in over a decade. Seen in the audience was Ed Flynn, who spoke on the proposal, Dan Manning, and Michael Kelley. Two other potential candidates were not seen.

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Comments

As a fixed wing and helicopter pilot, I can assuredly say none of the current condo buildings would be affected by a helipad built in the water at the end of fish pier. You would not hear it at all. I also work in the area and during lunch you can frequently see low flying helicopters flying very low over fort point for various reasons. The second they go over the water their sound disappears. The thought they you would hear them from D street (srysly) is silly. They're helicopters; they can stay high until directly over their landing point and then go straight down. There is no need to slowly lose altitude as they fly over communities all the while making noise

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Hasn't 2016 taught you anything? "Truth" and "facts" mean nothing anymore. People just feel like this this will disrupt their lives.

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I live in the City Point section of Southie and when something is going down at the Moakley Courthouse you can hear the news helicopters flying down there.
You can also hear the Mapfre Indurance traffic helicopter when it flies over the Evpresswsy.
So please don't tell us you can't hear them and don't tell us Rosie O'Donnel is moving to Canada.

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Again, you're missing the point. They don't need to fly over the seaport. They will come in over the harbor and land on a helipad that will literally be floating in the harbor. You won't hear them.

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Live and work in the Back Bay -- can attest to the fact that helicopters are loud and disruptive. You
can drown out sirens and caba honking, but low-flying tv news and movie shoot helicopters are a nuisance when you're tryinv to concentrate on your job.

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Hi-

Any comments on:
1) The effect that helicopters and any security zones (if any) will have on the recreational use of the harbor by boaters? A lot of sail boat racing occurs in the harbor near the fish pier.

2) The effect of "prop blast" on the surrounding area? This has been a problem along NYC's west side with the Hudson River heliports.

I'm not-anti aviation but the sound does not just disappear once they're over the harbor.

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I lived next to BI for a year and the helicopter noise was nearly intolerable. You could not have a conversation inside for five minutes when the thing was moving.

My advice: Any Boston helipad should have limited hours. No use before 9am or after 7pm and banned on the weekends. Use Logan instead in off peak times.

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  1. You lived "next to BI". Nobody will live next to this helipad.
  2. Hospitals operate 24x7; this facility 'should' operate largely 7a to 7p
  3. This helipad will be on the water, permitting approach and departures over the water. BI is inland.
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Hospitals operate 24x7; this facility 'should' operate largely 7a to 7p

Then there's no problem with putting this restriction in writing, correct?

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My guess is that they are an amenity the super-rich will use to not live in, or pay taxes in, MA.

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If they're commuting to Boston to work, they'll pay MA taxes on income made in MA, regardless of where they live.

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I think it's a case of 'going to' rather than 'coming from'. The GE execs are coming from suburban CT. Maybe a heliport was necessary to assuage their fears of potential emergency situations. I can't imagine that the CEOs and CFOs would want to be stuck in Boston traffic in the case of terrorist attack or other mass hysteria.

But who knows, after all my hat is lined with aluminum foil.

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More than one person wondered aloud why South Boston residents had to deal with broken down trains, crowded buses, and long lines while company executives would be able to hop on a helicopter for a quick ride to Logan or down to Manhattan.

ETA: Does anyone know the specifics on how a heliport would be paid for? What percent is state and city contributing? And where are the funds coming from?

I think it's really unfair that the city and state support a heliport for the privileged, while us peasants have to wait 30-60 minutes for a #9 bus at rush-hour. Not to mention chronic problems with the Red Line.

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You just have to know your place in society. This is a done deal and these hearings are just formalities to provide an appearance of a public process.
Meanwhile, already today:
Green line track [email protected], expect delays
Red line disabled train, expect delays
Yesterday: red line problems, rush hour delays
Another green line derailment, evening delays

etc.
mbta, why even bother?

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Bonds will be issued and paid off through landing fees.

Or, Massport is given oversight and will be collecting landing fees. They appear to be flush with cash that, by law, cannot be diverted to non port uses, and a heliport in the seaport might just qualify.

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          ( rapid for everyone, not just rapid for a few people in a helicopter )

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You have any idea how much the MBTA is subsidized?

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What our roads would be like if the T weren't subsidized and went out of business?

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This was the most vivid and engaging account of a community meeting I think I've read in some time, if ever. Great balance of editorial and reporting, too. You're running circles around somebody like Shirley Leung, who has the apparent latitude from her editors to do something like this but instead just dive-bombs the city from the inner suburbs to tell us our business. Well done, John.

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Couldn't agree more. I really enjoyed this article. I'd love to see more in-depth pieces like this.

Nice work!

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My secret? Ambien.

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Have your helipad/port/garage.

I want off this planet.

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Is it possible to receive some federal funds (via FAA Airport Improvement Program) to help build the facility? Many airports receive such funds, but they usually come 'strings attached'.

Is it possible to set the hours of operation for the helipad? (FYI, Logan cannot, by federal law.) In any event, business use of the pad during nights and weekends should be very limited.

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You can already land a helicopter at Boston Logan's Signature Flight Support (the private jet terminal). I know because I have taken off from there! The upgrades to convert this from a helistop to a heliport would likely be minimal given the existing infrastructure at Logan. Absent that, it would be easy for the helicopters to be staged at Norwood or Hanscom and drop in when needed. We are lucky enough to have our international airport located very conveniently in the heart of the city. There doesn't seem to be any reason not to locate the heliport there. The flight logistics argument seems silly to me. The alternate proposal is directly across the harbor from the airport. And helicopters are very flexible in terms of direction of liftoff to avoid flight-paths.

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Visit the south end of Manhattan if you want to see how much of a goddamn horror show the helicopters are.

I would imagine a better option would be at the roof of a 70 story building, in regards to noise.

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I really think the roof of the So. Station bus terminal is perfect for the helipad.

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70 story building....

about that...

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How could there be a heliport on the Fish Pier? Seems in direct conflict with Logan Runway 27, which is in active use today. As a Southie resident, or any Boston resident, I would be quite concerned about this. It's already loud in this area with nonstop construction, jets from Logan, traffic, cargo trucks, honking. When there was a helicopter floating around Boston Common last week to cover the protests, I could easily hear it from South Boston, as well as downtown. Might have to get new soundproof windows out of this as noise mitigation.

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Obviously, it's not the preferred situation, but conflicts between 'airports' do occur and are handled by air traffic control. In other words, the two 'airports' cannot operate independently. Controllers are involved, and sometimes one airport has to stop traffic (e.g., departures from Logan runway 27) while the other one conducts operations.

I'd be surprised (and disappointed) if Barros and Pollack went public without having checked this issue out.

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Hear a helicopter hovering over Boston Common in South Boston.

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Walked home down Pappas Way - could totally hear and see the Channel 7 helicoptoer.

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I believe Herb Chambers owns a very luxurious helicopter that he takes from his CT mansion and lands on the roof of his Somerville Mercedes dealership. If this is going to be used mainly by GE, why not build a helipad on their roof?

The planes coming in to land at Logan, on final approach over the Fish Pier, are so low that the pilots are clearly visible from a boat. In 2009 on the Hudson River in NYC, nine people were killed when a helicopter taking off began climbing and collided with a small plane above it. Imagine that with a fully-loaded 747 over the harbor. I'm not opposed to the heliport but think a Seaport location is fraught with peril.

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is a mayor who really gives a shit about the working class, the middle and lower class people of the City. They are more concerned how these GE executives are going to get to work that they don't care the Red Line has fires once a week and you wait in line with 75 other people to catch a bus. Morrisey Blvd floods every high tide and these morons are worried because GE planned on 35 parking spaces for their world headquarters whose execs commute by helicopter.
Bring back Ray Flynn, the People's Mayor.

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I live in on Sleeper Street, which is on a helicopter flight path that is directly above Fort Point Channel. Noise from choppers is extremely loud. Take a look at the FAA flight paths and you'll realize they're over land. Sure, the channel is water but you can hear the helicopter over a mile radius, at least.

Lobbyists, corporations and politicians that made a deal with GE prior to consulting the public will tell you they plan on starting with 28 flights/day and the public will have input on flight hours etc. Make no mistake, the disruption will be constant.

At what point will residents rise up against politicians that continue to make deals with the devil? Why are our elected officials making deals that will negatively impact residents' home values and infringe upon their property rights? All for corporations to save a few dollars on landing fees and a cab or ferry ride from Logan airport... It's sickening.

Jeff Immelt will be laughing as his chopper flies over the peasants in Southie waiting for the bus. His commute from NYC to is quicker than the 7 bus ride from East Broadway to downtown Boston.

Ask Manhattan residents how they feel about the heliport, it's been a disaster for 99.999% of the population. Barros and the other jokers say that our "competition as a world class city" is New York and referenced Manhattan's heliport. I'll take Boston over NYC all day, we don't need to compete with NYC because we're already better. Boston does not want to be New York. Boston does not want a heliport.

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