A meeting Tuesday night at Woodstock Day School about a controversial quartet of dumps in Saugerties drew about 30 residents, many of whom voiced their concerns about potential harm to their drinking water from the site, and also the impact of the noise associated with the constant influx of trucks laden with construction and demolition debris.
Saugerties Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., joined by Catskill Mountainkeeper attorney Emily Svenson and group strategic advisor Kate Hagerman, detailed the town’s various attempts to shut down what both town officials and local environmental advocates say is illegal dumping activities at sites owned by Joe Karolys.
Residents at the April 9 meeting said they suspect that the properties, located at 1446 Route 212, 33 Fel Qui Road, 43 Fel Qui Road and 90 Goat Hill Road, are receiving contaminated C&D debris fill material. (Karolys denies this is the case.) However, town officials say, Karolys is violating town law, which states that only C&D waste from within Saugerties can be dumped in Saugerties. Officials also say Karolys is working outside of the parameters of his pre-existing permit, which only allows trucking and excavating at the sites. (Karolys also denies this is the case.) Costello expressed frustration with the slow speed of the process to stop the dumping, and assured attendees that numerous county and state agencies had been called upon to help resolve the situation.
“We’ve had a little bit of help from the state police — many of these trucks have been overweight, one of them caused a property damage accident,” said Costello. “[But] those charges…go to the operator of the vehicle. They are helping a little bit because it’s less comfortable to dump at that facility…but it does not affect Karolys directly,” said Costello.
The situation is not a simple one. The town zoning board of appeals issued stop-work orders late last year and earlier this year to Karolys for all four of the properties, but enforcement has been halted by an order to show cause issued by state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott after Karolys filed an Article 78 lawsuit opposing the town’s decision. The show-cause order requires the ZBA to either lift the stop-work orders or decide to maintain them before the court can decide whether to allow them altogether.
The town ZBA has set a special meeting for Thursday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the Senior Center at 207 Market St. “The meeting will be open to the public as always, but will not be a public hearing,” the board stated in a press release. “Only the board and attorneys and their clients will be permitted to speak.”
“We are trying our very best to get a timely resolution to this,” said Costello. “There are a number of legal things that we are trying that I shouldn’t discuss, but I hope you all trust that we are trying every avenue we can. This is certainly a community issue, we want to bring a resolution to this quickly and see how it might impact our drinking water and our quality of life.”
At the April 1 ZBA meeting, thronged by over 200, Karolys’ attorney Melvin T. Higgins explained away his client’s reticence to allow the town to conduct tests on the fill, saying Karolys is concerned that a false positive could be picked up on the property from closed landfills nearby once used by the towns of Saugerties and Woodstock.
According to Costello, the town has sampled test wells on the landfill site since 1997. He said that this year, for the first time, one of those wells “tested an elevated, not an unhealthy elevation, but an elevated level of one of the things that they test for.” Thus, at its April 3 meeting, the town council approved the testing of a homeowner’s well at 13 Sawood Lane, which is in the geological flow path of the groundwater from the site, to see if contaminants appear. At the same meeting, sandwiched by public comments from neighbors condemning the activities at his properties, Karolys expounded upon his fears regarding the landfill, and the solar project that was approved for its cap last month. He claimed that the town has not filed a storm water prevention plan for the proposed project, that there were discrepancies within a 180-page special use permit for the solar project that he had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act about the scope of the project and the systems proposed for diverting stormwater, and the chain link fence around the proposed site.
“I’m authorized by the [state Department of Environmental Conservation] to accept this material, to process the material and redistribute it as I see fit,” Karolys said at the April 3 town board meeting. “The Town of Saugerties and a lot of its residents are putting a lot of effort into shutting me down on my job sites, in my business, in entirety. I believe that’s wrong. No one has proof of anything, we’ve been willing to work with the town as far as testing goes, but the protocols they want to follow are unorthodox.”
Many residents at the Woodstock Day School meeting urged police to monitor the trucks more carefully in an attempt to arrest drivers breaking traffic laws, and asked the town to call upon state police or the sheriff’s office for help.
“It sounds to me like, on one hand, we’re being asked for patience but on the other hand we’re being asked to make sure that there’s more advocacy and outreach going on,” said Kevin Smith of the Woodstock Land Conservancy. “The town is already doing what they’re doing. what’s happening on the legal front … that’s all moving forward, but in the meantime we keep putting pressure [on] in the form of visibility.”
“Usually I come into a case like this we’re fighting with the town, but the town is working with me on this,” said Svenson. “The town really took a very aggressive enforcement action … against the sites. Part of Karolys’ claim is that the town was overly aggressive … I think the town is wise to show some restraint before the ZBA takes action, it will help their case.”
Costello said the town has been in contact with both the state and county health departments, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Ulster County legislators, Congressman Antonio Delgado, state Sen. George Amedore and Acting County Executive Adele Reiter.
Meanwhile, the DEC has been carrying out its own independent water testing under the state’s Inactive Landfill Initiative, but it’s unclear whether the timing of the tests are correlated with Karolys’ dumping or work at the old landfill on the solar farm. Thus far on other Sawood Lane properties, Jerry Lerner and a woman who asked to remain unidentified have received bottled water from the agency, and have shared with the Saugerties Times test results indicating that 1,4-Dioxane, a compound deemed “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” and PFAs have been found in their well water.
“As part of our statewide, comprehensive efforts to investigate emerging contaminants, the Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating inactive landfills, including the inactive Town of Saugerties landfill. Groundwater at the landfill has been monitored since the facility closed, and two emerging contaminants were identified at the landfill, prompting DEC and [the state health department] to contact homeowners in close proximity to the landfill to offer sampling of private drinking water wells,” said a DEC representative when asked about the reasoning for the tests. “DEC and DOH have communicated the results of the well testing to the homeowners and offered bottled drinking water where appropriate. DEC will continue its investigation in order to verify the source of the contamination and determine appropriate next steps.”
The representative also said that the agency is investigating Karolys’ compliance with regulations outlined in Part 360 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, which was updated in January of this year and defines “clean fill,” and that Karolys is currently operating under a “Part 360 Registration.”
“We’re grateful for their efforts to ensure public health,” said Costello of the DEC’s testing. “We will be working closely with state and local officials to identify and remediate the source. I think the data over time will support us.”