EPA grounds helicopter used for pollution checks

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - A distinctive sound of summer at the Jersey shore - the roar of a low-flying helicopter above the surf as it looked for pollution - won’t be heard anymore.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says budget cuts are forcing it to ground a helicopter that for decades had checked for floating debris and algae blooms along the New Jersey and New York coastline.

The agency said less money and fewer employees left it with little choice but to end the program.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has faced serious budget constraints over the past few years that have resulted in tough choices and the redirection of staff and resources to successfully fulfill our mission,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “As a result of budget limitations and the need to realign existing resources, the regional helicopter will no longer operate.”

The EPA said it remains committed to protecting coastal waters and the New Jersey and New York shorelines.

The low-level flights, which started in 1977, were a familiar sight and sound to generations of beachgoers looking up at the chopper as it swooped low along the coast.

“The daily summertime flights allow EPA to locate large slicks of debris and coordinate cleanup with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” New Jersey’s two U.S. Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker said in a joint statement Thursday. “These efforts have helped make the Jersey Shore the jewel it is today, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.”

They urged the agency to reconsider its decision, which they called “foolish and potentially dangerous. Floating debris threatens marine life, and poses a public health risk to swimmers, fishermen and others along the Jersey Shore.

“We cannot allow this vital area to return to a time when beachgoers had to fear medical and chemical waste and raw sewage washing up along the shore,” they said.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. said the helicopter was also used to collect water samples that are critical to determining the health of shellfish beds.

“As we enter the summer tourism season, our economy is still struggling to recover from the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy, and we cannot afford for our beaches to be shuttered due to debris washing up along the coast,” Pallone said.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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