By Neil Schulman
Oceanport — Plans to expand heliport operations at Monmouth Park Racetrack may be dead, but borough officials still want to monitor the situation more closely.
Currently, Monmouth Park is allowed 10 helicopter flights a season. This dates back to when there were more tracks in the state, and jockeys would often run a race at Monmouth Park and needed to be quickly transported to a nearby track for a different race the same day.
This spring, the track asked for permission for two possible expansions. One was to increase the number of flights permitted for track use so that a business partner could commute to and from the area more easily. They also said a commercial company had expressed interest in providing flights for high rollers from New York City, since Monmouth Park provides sports betting and New York doesn’t yet.
Due to concerns from neighbors about the noise and disturbance the flights create, in August council rejected both expansions. But Councilman Robert Proto said that he wants to make sure the track is actually sticking to 10 flights a year.
The website flyfoxtrot.com is currently offering commuting services from New York to Monmouth Park at $395 a flight (though no current flights were being scheduled as of this week). Proto said that Borough Administrator Donna Phelps was asked to check who kept track of the number of flights to the track and was “told it was basically on the honor system.”
Unlike airplane flights which must follow detailed paths, helicopter flights are less stringently tracked. And Proto said that different people have given him different numbers for how many flights were taken this year, though the highest was eight.
Proto wants an ordinance to require that all flights to and from the park be filed with the borough. He wants a hefty fine to accomplish any that exceed the 10-trip limit.
“Based on the possibility of a $400 seat… I think it needs to be quite substantial.”
Proto suggested a $5,000 fine per violation. “It has to sting,” he said, worried that a company making $400 a seat would shrug off a few hundred dollar fine as worth it.
Borough Attorney Scott Arnette said a borough ordinance could impose a fine, though there are limits to the amount.
Councilman Joe Irace said that he wanted to make sure there was a system in place to make sure that the flights residents are complaining about actually come from Monmouth Park, since there’s a heliport in the corporate center off Eatontown Boulevard a few blocks away.
“I’m not so sure all the flights coming over [Oceanport homes] are attributable to Monmouth Park,” he said, asking if it would be possible for Oceanport to monitor other heliports in the area as well to see if they’re causing the issues.
Sam Zimmerman, board president of Jockey Club Estates, said that he favored the proposed ordinance.
“We’ve very happy you’re introducing this,” he said.
Zimmerman, who says they can not only hear helicopters overhead but feel the vibrations, believes there have been “a lot more than eight” flights over his house this year.
He also thanked council again for rejecting the proposed commercial heliport last month.
“A heliport behind the houses… I think it’s just a non-starter,” Zimmerman said.