Both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the town of Saugerties are trying to gets a warrant to perform inspections at Joe Karolys’ construction and demolition waste sites.
That fact was divulged at a meeting on May 14 at the Saugerties High auditorium. The meeting, organized by Catskill Mountainkeeper, was attended by about 50; representatives from Congressman Antonio Delgado and state Sen. George Amedore’s offices, along with Ulster County legislators Mary Wawro and Dean Fabiano, were present.
“The [DEC] is aware of the Karolys operation and Department staff have been actively investigating reports of associated illegal activity,” wrote DEC Regional Director Kelly R. Turturro to Catskill Mountainkeeper attorney Emily Svenson in a letter that was passed out. “The property owner refused to grant DEC staff access to the properties to evaluate whether the sites are in compliance with the Environmental Conservation Law. Accordingly, we are currently seeking a warrant in court so that DEC staff will be able to access and inspect the sites.”
According to Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., the town is seeking a warrant to test material from the Karolys properties, located at 1446 Route 212, 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road and 90 Goat Hill Road — the possibility of testing debris that has spilled onto neighboring properties is also a concern. Karolys has also refused to let town inspectors onto his property.
“The ideal situation is we have the freedom to go on the property and garner a sample in a scientific way and it can be judge scientifically,” said Costello. “If we had a secondary source of the sample that would be somewhat helpful but scientifically compromised. If we had the opportunity to test secondary samples, it would tell us theoretically if the material is contaminated and what it is contaminated with. Then we can make assumptions on whether it is leaving an impact on the air or water.”
Although Karolys’ properties are, officials say, in violation of zoning code and a townwide law preventing the disposal of fill from anywhere but Saugerties in Saugerties, Karolys challenged stop-work orders issued by building inspector Alvah Weeks in state Supreme Court. A judge ruled that before the stop-work orders can be enforced, the town zoning board of appeals had to reaffirm its vote to halt Karolys’ operation. They did so, and now the ball is back in the court of Judge Richard Mott, who has yet to hand down a final decision.
The inching pace of the court’s decision-making process, along with its rulings that have allowed dumping to continue, were discussed at length at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m trying not to pop thinking about the courts doing what they’re doing and I’m wondering if you have anything you can tell us about the court and why it may have favored an individual that is doing something that is dangerous over an entire community,” asked resident Amy Fray at the meeting.
“Conversation keeps coming up about the court,” said neighbor Bob Lippman in a similar vein. “What level is the court at and can’t you go above this court and is this court in favor of what’s going on? … It’s not at the point anymore of trying to be politically correct or nice. Nice is over with. It’s time to take the gloves off, it’s time to take this for real, and there’s no more nice guys. What’s wrong with a little organized police harassment? I’m very serious. If you’ve had the misfortunate of being pulled over… they can find something wrong with your car. You mean to tell me that none of these garbage trucks have nothing wrong with them?”
Costello said while town attorney John Greco submitted his report to Judge Mott almost immediately, Karolys’ lawyer Melvin T. Higgins requested additional time past the assigned May 10 deadline. Greco told the Saugerties Times last week that he interpreted the extension as a stalling tactic.
“We complained that we did not want them to have more time, we feel that enough time has passed already,” said Costello. “We just wanted the court to make a decision.”
The town, once Higgins’ brief is submitted, will have until May 17 to respond. Meanwhile, Karolys has filed a notice of claim against the town voicing his intention to sue for, among other things, alleged defamation and infringed constitutional rights.
“We have no reason to think that [there’s preferential treatment] — it really is just a slow process in the courts,” said Svenson in response to residents suggesting ulterior motives behind the court’s inching pace. “Courts move frustratingly slow, it’s just the nature of the process.”
Svenson discussed Karolys’ argument that materials he is processing are covered by “beneficial use determinations,” or demolition dumping activities that are allowed by the DEC.
“There is a BUD for asphalt, but only for asphalt that’s separated and only if its used to construct a new paved surface, said Svenson. “There’s a BUD for aggregate made from concrete brick and rock that meets a municipal or state specification for commercial aggregate — you can see these are very specific. They don’t cover just mixing together concrete asphalt and sol and putting it in a pile. There’s not a BUD for that.”
Many residents urged town officials to take measures to ensure that if Karolys’ operation is halted, the town won’t be left with a bill for cleanup.
“My personal opinion is if this comes to a really bad head to them, they’re going to cut, bail and run,” said Regina Ippolito. “They’re going to file for bankruptcy and everyone in this community will have to deal with it.”
Claudine Heller and other residents living on Sawood Lane, in the underground floodpath of the Fel Qui Road sites, bemoaned the findings of Department of Health well-testings on their property. While residents say their wells get tested frequently due to their proximity to a closed Saugerties town landfill, tests came back positive for contaminants for the first time this year, detecting traces for 1,4 dioxane and PFAs.
“Coincidentally after this dumping, the DOH notified us that, you know what, we’re going to give you bottled water,” said Heller. “We don’t want you drinking their water but they wont tell us why, other than one contaminant that was never in our water before was found.”
Costello urged residents to be patient, saying that the town was treading carefully to maximize potential for a dump-squelching outcome by patiently taking the steps laid out by the state Supreme Court to formally.
“It’s interesting that our much-beloved late congressman, Maurice Hinchey, one of the signature issues he was involved with was this illegal dumping, using upstate as an illegal dumping ground,” said Woodstock Land Conservancy President Kevin Smith. “Surely the irony isn’t lost on you that this is happening here, in his hometown.”
Meanwhile, efforts to interview Karolys have not yet born fruit. Back on May 1, he called this reporter and left a voicemail, but has not since returned calls back.