Request a Yard Sign:
We've shown you the facts, research, and various legal issues surrounding the new heliport created at LCMC/Children's Hospital. We've described the damaging consequences the heliport move has had on our health and mental well-being (and invite you all to experience it yourselves, as video does not do it justice). We've highlighted the shady goings-on surrounding the permitting process. And despite a campaign to the contrary portraying us as such, we've tried to assure everyone that we are not against medical air transports, sick children, or the hospital itself. We just ask that the heliport return to its location of the previous nine years, where it did not negatively impact the neighborhood. We want to sleep again, we want our children to sleep again. We don't want our houses to shake. We are fighting to protect our families, our homes, and our neighborhood. To display a sign with with the image shown here, click here.
FOX 8 NEWS | Zurik: Helipad move rattles neighbors’ nerves, project done without proper city permits
click to view the special report by fox 8 | LEE ZURICK
By Lee Zurik and Cody Lillich | February 4, 2021 at 9:57 PM CST - Updated February 4 at 10:34 PM
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The whirling sounds of helicopter rotors and engines reverberate through the Audubon area of New Orleans, louder than ever before, rattling homes and windows at all hours of the day and night.
The cause -- the helicopter landing area for Children’s Hospital New Orleans was moved closer to the neighborhood from its former home next to the river and railyard. The move was made in 2020 with little input from the neighbors who heard the changes when they were already done.
Neighbors say the noise nuisance suddenly started back in May 2020. The helicopter moved surreptitiously, without a proper permit or occupational license.
“Before we were given any notice we just started seeing helicopters literally come out of the sky. It didn’t take us long to realize they were landing on the building right across the street from my house,” Melisa Rey, who lives near the hospital, said.
Children's Hospital in New Orleans moved their helicopter landing zone from an area near the river to an area closer to a neighborhood. (Source: Google Earth)In December 2019, Children’s Hospital applied for a building permit to move its helipad from the back of its Tchoupitoulas Street campus, approximately 130 yards closer to nearby homes in the neighborhood across the street. The hospital never received a permit from the City of New Orleans, but still decided to start the work, and in May 2020, moved the helipad.
Melisa Rey lives across the street from the helipad. She e-mailed New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to complain about the “unpermitted heliport.” Another neighbor also e-mailed the mayor. Both of those e-mails went unanswered.
Rey wanted to know what happened with her e-mail, so she filed a public records request with the city and discovered it was forwarded directly from the Mayor’s e-mail account to Children’s Hospital.
“At that point I became very concerned we were not going to have a fair resolution,” Rey said.
Eleven years ago, Children’s Hospital built a heliport on its campus to transport children across the region, often for lifesaving care.
Hospital officials said they made the move after safety concerns were raised by their pilots. Neighbors who are rattled by the noise on every takeoff and landing wish they would have had input on the issue.
“We really did not anticipate it would be a problem,” Children’s Hospital Board Chair Dr. Stephen W. Hales, said.
Children’s requested a permit days before the City of New Orleans cyber attack in December 2019, then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The City of New Orleans never signed off on the building permit, but Children’s says the site was frequently inspected by city inspectors.
“We had been in touch with the city the entire time and at no point in time was the process stopped,” Ben Whitworth, Children’s Hospital Vice President of Hospital Operations, said. “The communication has been in place the entire time with the city throughout the project in terms of knowing where we are with the status of construction.”
E-mails obtained from the city show they were made aware of the Children’s Hospital construction being done without a permit.
In June 2020, Chief Zoning Official Ashley Becnel said in an e-mail “If we think they’re doing this work without a permit, we need to go stop it ASAP.”
There is no indication that ever happened.
District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso says the best practice is for projects this size to have a permit before work begins. He said he wants to see why the hospital felt the need to relocate the landing site.
“I want to see the data. I want to see has your accreditation been jeopardized by moving it from one place to another or is it going to be improved?” Giarrusso said. “If you’ve moved the helipad from one place to the other are you improving patient safety? What objective data proves that to be the case? Those are the things I want to know and frankly, neighbors want to know because when it’s ‘trust us take us at our word’ it becomes much harder.”
Communication between Children’s Hospital and the neighborhood has stopped because at least a hundred neighbors have filed suit in district court.
In an update to neighbors, Children's Hospital shows the flight paths for their helicopter in December 2020 and efforts to avoid the nearby neighborhood. (Source: Children's Hospital)Children’s Hospital says it’s trying to fix some of the issues the neighbors have raised, for example, it modified the flight path for the helicopter around the neighborhood.
“You can’t say gee whiz you should be happy now we made minor modifications to our flight path even though we’re taking off 17 times a day -- all night and day,” Tut Kinney, attorney for the neighbors, said. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate response.”
Children’s Hospital says Kinney’s lawsuit has prevented both sides from finding a resolution.
“The legal action by a small group of the neighbors has certainly hindered our ability to communicate and engage and have two-way productive conversations,” Whitworth said.
FOX 8 spoke to several neighbors off-camera who did not want to do an interview. Some supported Children’s Hospital and say the noise by their house is not a nuisance. Others near the hospital also complain about the noise.
“I’m sorry that neighbors are having a problem with the noise but also it’s not a uniform voice they speak with,” Dr. Hales said.
Rey said she understands the need for urgent medical care for kids but wishes Children’s Hospital could come up with a solution that doesn’t wake her up in the middle of the night.
“I have children, I want them to receive medical care and I want the children of the region to continue to receive the quality care that Children’s provides but it needs to be done in concert and in cooperation with the neighborhood that it lives in,” Rey said.
The building permit for the project was issued Jan. 20, 2021 and the certificate of occupancy issued on Jan. 22, months after the project was completed. According to city documents, the project was assessed a building permit violation in the amount of $16,044.
A City of New Orleans document shows the Children's Hospital project was assessed a fine in the amount of $16,044 for a building permit violation. (Source: City of New Orleans Records)
FOX 8 asked the City of New Orleans for a comment on the delay in the Department of Safety and Permits and why e-mails to the Mayor were forwarded on to Children’s Hospital, but they declined to comment because of potential litigation.
Copyright 2021 WVUE. All rights reserved.
Councilmember Joe Giarrusso's letter to Children's Hospital
December 28, 2020
The Neighbors Position
The neighborhood surrounding Children’s Hospital – commonly referred to as West Riverside, or Audubon West Riverside – has been adversely affected by the addition of a new heliport on the CH New Orleans (CH) infill tower on their campus at 200 Henry Clay Avenue. While we, as neighbors and citizens of New Orleans, support the mission of LCMC and its decade long use of a helicopter to provide care to its patients, in May of this year, LCMC changed its flight path to proceed directly over the neighborhood and began illegally operating a newly constructed heliport immediately across the street from the neighbors– a use not allowed in this area according to City ordinances.
This structure was constructed without a building permit from the City, application to or approval of the DOTD Aviation Section, nor approval or determination by the FAA. It was also done without the knowledge of or collaboration with the surrounding neighborhood. Because of LCMC’s decisions violate the letter and spirit of the laws that we, both citizens and corporations, must all abide, 103 neighbors appealed to the zoning authority.
I. The Heliport Was Built Without Proper Permitting.
In May of 2020, CH began operating a new heliport at the front of its campus, immediately adjacent to Tchoupitoulas Street, and much closer to the neighborhood in comparison to the helipad previously used by CH. The former helipad was located at the rear of the campus, close to Leake Avenue and the railroad tracks, and operated for nine years without any disturbances to the surrounding community.
Through public records requests, it was learned that the heliport, complete with service facilities, was illegally constructed without a building permit from or interim or final inspections by Safety and Permits, application to or approval of the DOTD Aviation Section, nor approval or determination by the FAA. It also does not appear that those responsible for the day-to-day administration of LCMC sought a permit from or inspection by, among others, the New Orleans Fire Department for the installation of its 5,000 gallon jet fuel tank installed underground directly below the heliport to service the same. This is in addition to and without regard to the permitting and inspection issues relative to the diesel tanks installed on City property, over City objection, and without City knowledge. Based upon publicly available information as of the date of this posting, the referenced permits remain outstanding as does the certificate of occupancy for the heliport, and it does not appear that the heliport and its facilities have been inspected by all of the legal agencies having jurisdiction, putting the patients, families and those in the surrounding area at risk.
II. The New Heliport, Altered Routes and Increased Activity Are Not Compatible with the Neighbors Who Call the Audubon Riverside Neighborhood Home
As stated above, for more than nine years CH used a helicopter landing pad that is atop a one-story building at the back of the complex of CH buildings. It is still located there, next to the railroad tracks along with other noisy machinery such as cooling towers and exhaust fans. The original heliport on Henry Clay Ave.is approximately 800 feet away from the nearest houses on Tchoupitoulas Street, and it is shielded from the neighborhood by a six-story building. Helicopter’s arrived from a southerly direction. This landing approach and location, approved by the FAA, avoided the necessity of low flying helicopters over a predominantly residential area. Helicopters landing at the original heliport were never intrusive to the neighborhood.
The difference in CH helicopter transports to the new heliport location has been astounding. Increased noise, pollution and vibrations have all dramatically altered the lives of the surrounding neighbors.
For outdoor noise in a residential area, the EPA has set noise limits at 55dB during daytime and 45dB at night. Background noise levels common in the neighborhood are in the mid-40dBs.
During helicopter approaches, hovering, landings, idling, takeoffs and departures, decibel readings often measure over 100dB on surrounding neighborhood front porches and in backyards, and over 90dB inside of homes. 90dB is the sound pressure of a jackhammer breaking up concrete 10' away. This is inside homes. The Decibel scale is exponential, so 90dB is 32 times louder than the WHO recommended limit for ambient noise.
Peer-reviewed studies show that repeated loud noise affects a child’s cognitive development, including concentration, persistence, motivation, and learning ability. Repeated exposure to high noise levels has significant impact on the health of both adults and children:
The penetrating impact of a 1,480 hp, twin-engine jet aircraft cannot be understated. Unfortunately, it is now a reality that hits the neighbor’s families and homes daily, at unpredictable times, often several times and at all hours of the day and night. Sounds of helicopters wake neighbors in the middle of the night. The sounds upset and confuse children, disturbing them during naptime, playtime, and study time. Helicopter transfers interrupt work and ordinary conversations. These disturbances are especially poignant as many of children are currently remote learning at home.
The sounds of living in a city is something all New Orleanians are all accustomed to, whether it be traffic, train horns, a second line, crossing bells, a boisterous crawfish boil, barking dogs, or band practice. Living across from a heliport, however, is a level of noise and disturbance on a different order of magnitude. (Video documentation of both the noise and vibration impacts can be provided upon request.)
III. We Support the Continued Use of a Helicopter, But Request LCMC/Children’s Hospital Act as a Responsible Corporation and Act Legally, Without Harm to Its Neighbors
CH sits amongst one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, the Audubon zoo, Audubon Park, the Tree of Life, the meditation labyrinth, and the Butterfly. Up until this point, the industrial CH and pre-existing residential and nature-centric surroundings have been able to peacefully coexist Indeed, as neighbors and citizens of New Orleans, the neighbors support the mission of CH. Their own children have received care at CH, and every one of them feels sincere respect and gratitude for the work done by all of the medical professionals there. In no way do the neighbors of this community want helicopter transports by CH to be permanently stopped.
However, the current heliport from which CH has chosen to conduct these operations was constructed without permit or satisfactory oversite. It was constructed without consideration of its neighbors or surroundings, humans, zoo animals, and nature alike. And, due to the grave and negative impacts its move is having on the health and welfare of the families, the sanctity of the surrounding homes, the neighbors, and the surrounding environment, an appeal of the improper zoning verification was required. As a result, 103 men and women appealed the zoning verification for the protection of the neighborhood, including its children.
The participants to this BZA appeal are committed to being good neighbors, not only to each other, but to LCMC as well. All they ask in return is that LCMC also acts as a #goodneighbor to those closest and most affected by LCMC’s decisions and actions.
1 Sources include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), Johns Hopkins Hospital, the American Academy of Audiology, Southern Medical Journal, Environmental Pollution journal, Intensive Care Medicine journal, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, and Journal of Environmental Psychology.