A dump on Route 212 is causing strife between the owner, the town and the dump’s neighbors, who fear for their drinking water.
Saugerties officials were met with legal pushback after they issued a stop-work order in December to Joe Karolys for his solid waste management facility on 1446 Route 212. Town officials believe Karolys was allowing the dumping of construction and demolition waste from outside the county onto his property.
The town was made aware of the situation, said town supervisor Fred Costello Jr., following concerns from neighbors about that their well water may be in danger from the debris.
According to town attorney John Greco, a town engineer measured a 30-foot stack of crumbling solids, an amount that he said exceeded 700 18-wheeler loads of material.
According to Karolys’ lawyer, Melvin T. Higgins, the activity on the property adheres to state waste-dumping guidelines. But the town says Karolys is in violation of town laws that prohibit the placement of C&D waste from other municipalities on Saugerties soil without special permits to do so. Violating this law, according to Greco, is a misdemeanor with a “significant fine” attached.
“The town is extremely disappointed by the lack of action by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, not to mention local [DEC] officers,” said Greco. “I think their hands have been tied by some decisions coming out of the main office of the DEC in Albany. Something needs to be done on a state level — by this new interpretation of what is and isn’t’ allowed … the floodgates to dump this waste all over upstate New York have been opened.”
An initial stop-work order issued by the town’s code enforcement inspector was stayed by a judge when Karolys brought the dispute to state Supreme Court. Karolys then named the town of Saugerties, along with code enforcement officer Alvah Weeks, the town’s zoning board of appeals and the Saugerties Police Department in an Article 78 proceeding seeking to have the stop-work order permanently lifted.
Although there is no longer a stop-work order in effect for the Route 212 property, work continues on Karolys’ other area properties, where Karolys said he has been carting some of the waste to begin to build residential properties.
On March 5, Karolys and his lawyer Higgins had an audience with the town’s zoning board of appeals, providing them with a list of 20 local dumping operations taking in waste from different municipalities, including the town’s transfer station (via their inter-municipal agreement with the towns of Woodstock and Shandaken) and town supervisor Fred Costello Jr.’s area businesses.
“[Karolys] was given no notice in his change in opinion and that his use of the property has been severely limited for no reason other than the hypothesized idea that there are contaminates,” said Higgins in an impassioned presentation to the ZBA. “It also had to do with, to my understanding, allegations that he was putting materials on his land that could pollute the entire continent … there’s nearly zero proof that any of the materials he’s been using … are in any contaminated, but there are a lot of complexities involved in this.”
Greco, who was in attendance, responded simply: if the wastes weren’t contaminated, why would companies be paying Karolys to dump it.
“It certainly raises a serious question when this material is being trucked 100 miles and then they are paying the property owner to dump the load. It would be inconceivable to me that if this fill weren’t contaminated that these truckers would have to travel 100 miles to find a property owner to accept clean fill, let alone be paid. It defies credibility — there has to be a reason that these truckers are driving 100 miles to pay to dispose of it.”
Greco said that the town’s building department is looking into the provided list of other allegedly illegal dumpers. However, he said that “the extent of the operation in Mr. Karolys’ case likely far exceeds any other site that may be accepting construction and demolition debris.”
Higgins said his client had invited town officials to come take soil samples from the property on numerous occasions; however, Greco said, town officials wanted this invitation rendered in writing before they did so. The town will need to pay an environmental firm to take samples and then to have them tested in a lab, said Greco. Even if the debris comes back clean, Greco said, there will still be a problem.
“Anyone who wants to process demolition [waste] needs a special permit from the town board,” said Greco. “Even if it comes back ‘clean’, as far as we’re concerned Mr. Karolys needs to come before the town board to get that special permit. We’re hopeful that [state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott] will support our local law.”
Currently, Greco said, the business, Karolys & Son, only have a local permit for “trucking and excavating.”
Costello said, although the initial stop-work order was issued in December, the town has been attempting to get the situation under control for “12 to 18 months,” and that the issue is being pursued in a “cautious and measured” manner.
“We’ve been approached by residents who feel that their wells are in jeopardy. We share those concerns and right now we can’t assure them that their drinking water is safe. That’s not an OK place to be — we’re looking for those assurances,” Costello said. “I would argue that our building department is as balanced as any in the county, and they haven’t been able to resolve it.”