The state Department of Environmental Conservation on July 1 ordered controversial Saugerties dump owner Joe Karolys to “immediately begin removing all solid waste” from his three illegal C&D debris dumping sites. The state agency treated 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road sites as one operation.
In a letter to Karolys, the agency spelled out 39 total violations of state clean water and solid waste disposal laws. The alleged violations come after a court-ordered inspection of the sites on May 17, where samples of the material were taken for testing.
“These violations will be referred to our Office of General Counsel for appropriate enforcement action, which will require removal and proper disposal of the solid waste. Accordingly, no additional solid waste shall be brought to your properties,” the DEC said.
“We’re thrilled with this letter, it verifies everything that we’ve been saying,” said Emily Svenson, an attorney that has been petitioning state government to shut down the dumps on behalf of environmental activism group Catskill Mountainkeeper. “We don’t know exactly what will happen next. The Karolyses could challenge this violation, there could be some additional interaction with DEC. I’m not sure how this will play out, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
The town of Saugerties, driven by concerns voiced by neighbors about noise caused by truck traffic in and out of the four sites and about the possibility of harmful chemicals getting into surrounding well water, has been trying to halt the operations in court, but is still waiting for a ruling from state Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott. The DEC says the operation has been in violation of its dumping rules since 2016 and town officials say Karolys’ dumps are breaking the town law to boot. Karolys hasn’t taken this lying down — he’s filed a notice of claim in state Supreme Court, reserving his right to sue the town for, among other things, defamation and violating his rights to use his property.
Things took a turn for the bizarre on May 17 when DEC officials got a warrant to search and take samples at Karolys’ Route 212 home and dump. While officials were doing their job, Karolys pulled down his pants and displayed his bare buttocks — a practice colloquially referred to as “mooning” — to a Daily Freeman reporter. According to town supervisor Fred Costello Jr., soil samples have been taken from neighboring sites where debris has spilled over, but those tests were inconclusive.
Karolys said that he was unaware that a letter containing the DEC’s findings had been issued when reached for comment on Tuesday, July 2. But later that day, he texted the following: “I spoke to [lawyer Melvin T. Higgins]. We are waiting on my environmental engineer to review the DEC documents. … I find it astonishing that the media knew about this before myself or my attorney.”
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. said that same day that he thinks the DEC can shut down Karolys faster than the court can.
“We believe this supersedes the court decision. The DEC is not involved in the actions that the town took, so they aren’t restrained by [the show cause] order,” Costello said. “The town cannot move forward without permission from the court, but the DEC is not restrained. This is a significant moment in this effort to get a resolution. The DEC has significantly more enforcement capacity than the town, and they have been able to cite many more laws than we were able to cite in our enforcement action. We are going to move forward with the enforcement actions that we have been pursuing and will move forward with the enforcement actions that they have kicked off as well.”
According to the DEC letter, there were no self-inspection or daily records available at the main Route 212 processing site. There was also, the DEC wrote, no control program for unauthorized waste in place, and contaminants spilled off the property. Dust control was, wrote the DEC, inadequate, and no emergency numbers were posted anywhere on site. Most importantly, stated the agency, while Karolys did have a permit with the DEC to process C&D debris at this site, the amount of accumulated fill surpassed the maximum amount that he was permitted to process there.
According to the DEC, the properties on Goat Hill Road and Fel Qui Road are not licensed to accept any demolition debris. At all three of the sites, according to the letter, “waste was observed in water,” violating a laundry list of laws that forbid waste from entering surface water and ground water, and dictating that C&D processing sites are placed above the “seasonal high groundwater table.” No leachate control measures had been taken on any of the sites, and none of them had a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit filed, stated the agency. The waste at the sites contained “physical contaminants” and “unrecognizable component[s]” that are not permitted in NYCRR Part 360, the section of state law that deals with C&D waste, the DEC wrote. The Goat Hill and Fel Qui sites both violated provisions that limit a site to taking in 5,000 cubic yards of material in its lifetime, stated the DEC. Residues from other construction and demolition processing sites were found on the fill, also illegal, the agency wrote. Finally, C&D dump operators are not allowed to act as a broker or arrange for the disposal of waste at a facility unless the facility is exempt from [Part 360] regulations,” which the DEC claims was taking place.
Before moving the fill on his sites to law-abiding C&D dumps as ordered by the DEC, Karolys must give the agency five days notice; he is also barred from receiving any more material. The agency wrote, at the end of its letter, that even if the debris is moved as directed, it “in no way affects the rights of the NYSDEC to seek penalties and other relief in accordance with Environmental Conservation Law.”
DEC Region 3 director David Pollock, who signed the letter, could not be reached for comment to determine what those additional penalties could be.
Costello said his utmost concern is to garner information on possible contaminants on the sites, so that officials could “look [residents] in the eye and say ‘your water is safe or not safe’ and ‘your air is safe or not safe.’”