June 21, 2006

No Chopper Till Fall

Given the glacial speed of government, nine months may indeed be perceived as "right away." Last September, then-Legislator Angie Carpenter sought the expedited purchase of a medevac helicopter to replace one of two clunkers that spent as much time out of service than in in the county fleet.

The new chopper had been originally slated for purchase this year and given the protracted process the purchase entails, Carpenter, along with East End lawmakers and emergency service personnel lobbied to move the buy up by three months. The measure was defeated, and lawmakers who voted against it promised to put in for the new chopper at the earliest opportunity this year. Not sensitive to the concept of seasonal population swells, apparently, upIsland lawmakers didn't see the difference a delay would make.

Last week, County Executive Steve Levy, who has consistently sought to delay, if not ditch altogether, spending the money to bring the fleet up to desired specs announced he'd set the purchase in motion. The whirlybird won't land locally till this fall, which could leave the East End scrambling for medevac coverage throughout the summer.

In a release, Levy 's press office said the purchase will bring the county fleet up to four choppers, one more than was maintained by the prior administration. That's not exactly so.

As readers who have followed the issue will recall, at the end of 2004, county officials admitted that two of the three choppers it maintained were, as Levy said then, "clunkers." They were in near constant need of repair and spent more time on the tarmac than in the air. In 2005 one new chopper was purchased.

And then there were four — two that worked, two that didn't. The craft slated for delivery this fall will replace just one of the unreliable choppers, leaving a fleet comprised of three functioning choppers and still one lemon — another term the county executive used to describe the ever-ailing aircraft in 2004.

The final medevac, which would truly bring the fleet to four is not depicted in Levy's capital budget until after 2009. In the meantime, Suffolk has an agreement with Nassau County to provide additional coverage if necessary, his press office reminded.

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