After obtaining the proper warrants, state Department of Environmental Conservation officials finally got access last Friday morning to the Saugerties construction and demolition debris dump operated by Joe Karolys.
State officials had been trying to get on to the Route 212 property to do testing of the materials dumped there; with five DEC police vehicles parked in front of the property, blocking the driveway; a video of the proceedings shows state officials collecting two five-gallon buckets of fill. Samples from the Karolys sites on Fel Qui and Goat Hill roads were also taken.
The town of Saugerties, spurred on by complaints and worries from neighbors that the material being brought there — estimated by state officials at over 20,000 cubic yards — may contain toxins that may contaminate nearby wells, are trying to get the operation shut down in court, but are awaiting a ruling from state Supreme Court.
We have not gotten any specific information about what the DEC did,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. Tuesday. “We didn’t get a briefing yet.”
While Karolys, who filed a notice of claim against the town, reserving the right to sue Saugerties for allegedly defaming him and unlawfully interfering with his business, couldn’t stop the inspections from taking place, he did apparently offer his opinion on what was going on. At 10:13 a.m., a security camera from across Route 212 captured him pulling down his pants and underwear and displaying his buttocks to, published reports state, a Daily Freeman reporter.
“I don’t know how he can tell my behind from anyone else’s,” said Karolys when he was asked what inspired the rude gesture. “I never met the man.”
Later that day, Karolys gloated in a Facebook post: “Did anyone see that Moon [sic] yesterday?” Also later that day, a sign reading “#lovethyneighbor (no exceptions)” appeared on the site.
The DEC says the operation has been in violation of its dumping rules since 2016, and that the dumping site on Goat Hill Road is unsanctioned. But in the wake of Friday’s raid, this week the agency wasn’t saying much: “On May 17, DEC inspected three Karolys properties, including its registered C&D facility, in the town of Saugerties,” an agency spokeswoman wrote in an email to Ulster Publishing. “DEC is investigating these sites to determine compliance with DEC’s regulations. If violations are found, DEC will undertake enforcement action, including potential penalties, to protect public health and the environment.”
Since the subpoenaed samples were taken, Karolys has taken to social media, calling out Costello and posting photos of the town transfer station, a village of Saugerties collection site on High Street that visibly contains tires, garbage, insulation, laminate flooring and outdoor carpeting along with concrete, asphalt pavement and dirt. He has sent Ulster Publishing a spate of text messages and emails pointing fingers at other facilities within the town.
“It’s up to the town of Saugerties to keep their transfer station in order, but it’s wrong to compare an unpermitted unregulated dump on private property in a residential area to a town transfer station,” said Catskill Mountainkeeper strategic advisor Kate Hagerman in response to the posts.
“We operate under DEC guidelines and we are annually inspected,” said Costello. “When we do something wrong, we correct it, there is no comparison to [Karolys’ operation]. If a homeowner is renovating a bathroom and it ends up at the transfer station, it is not comparable to bringing fill from out of state, for monetary gain.”
“Why does the town refuse to acknowledge there are multiple other businesses in the town accepting out-of-town materials (some from the same exact facilities in NYC that I am)? Are they putting all the focus on me to protect these others? If they are going to test they should test all of them,” wrote Karolys. “You don’t check one kid in the whole school for head lice — it just doesn’t make sense. Why only me? The town wants all the focus on me to protect itself and all the good ol’ boys.”
“It’s a bait and switch,” Costello said of Karolys’ accusations about other illegal and/or improper dump sites in town. “We all worry about our own sphere and he should too.”
Karolys also sent this reporter an email on May 16, answering a series of questions about the nature of his business sent on April 15.
“The material is coming out of NYSDEC-approved fill transfer stations I am confident that it is uncontaminated,” he wrote when asked whether he conducts his own tests on his C&D material. “The material generally tested prior to starting a job in [New York City], and the NYSDEC and NYC Sanitation department check the facilities on a weekly basis for compliance. Any contaminated or ‘Hot’ loads are sent to the proper facilities out of state directly from the site in NYC.”
Karolys said that when material is first brought to his Route 212 site, the central site where fill material is brought before it is distributed to Karolys’ other properties on 90 Goat Hill Road and 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road, it’s first visually inspected for “unauthorized waste.” He said that he only accepts “RUCARBS” — recognizable uncontaminated concrete, asphalt, rock, brick and soil. If any signs of spills or odors are detected, he said, it is automatically rejected.
Karolys: My family lives here
“One thing I can say to hopefully reassure my neighbors and the entire community is that I live here full-time with my wife and children,” said Karolys, whose home is nestled among mounds of fill at the Route 212 site. “There is a misconception that I am some out of town guy that’s dumping garbage in the woods and eventually I’m going to run away. That’s entirely not true. I grew up here … We have two kids that go to Saugerties Jr./Sr. High. We built a beautiful home on our property at 1446 Route 212. We are not going anywhere. If I thought for a second any of this material would harm my wife, kids, or neighbors, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Karolys lamented that the recent attention brought to his business has impacted the lives of his entire family. He called a May 14 community forum held in the Saugerties High auditorium, attended by concerned neighbors and officials from several levels of government, was a “slap in the face” for his two children, a 14-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, who attend the school: “The school shouldn’t have allowed that to go on where my kids are entitled to receive an education free from bias.” He alleges that a parent-teacher conference was held with the school’s principal present after a teacher made off-color comments about his father’s operation in class.
“Our lives have changed significantly since all of the push back from the town began — people look at my family and I like we are monsters,” he wrote. “It’s difficult to even go to a grocery store or gas station without having people make rude remarks or just give us nasty looks. My business has suffered as I think people are afraid to hire me because they don’t want to get into trouble.”
“Ultimately we need a resolution for this,” Costello said. “There are a lot of people whose property and wells … they have questions we can’t answer and we need the help of the DEC and other agencies to get those answers.”