Despite an order from the state Department of Conservation to shut down, neighbors say trucks keep coming in to Joe Karolys’ controversial construction and demolition debris dumps.
Mike Ferraro, who lives across the street from Karolys’ Route 212 property, which contains both Karolys’ home and one of his dumps, said about six trucks a day are coming into the site — more than the four a day usually seen before the DEC’s July 2 stop-work order.
“I have proof of what I see here. I have proof of what’s going on for anyone who wants to see it,” said Ferraro, who has a video camera trained on the site 24 hours a day. “By violating these state laws that you’re bluntly violating, why aren’t they hauling him off in handcuffs? Nobody knows what he’s doing, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“We feel angry, frustrated,” said a neighbor who asked for anonymity for fear of reprisals. “It’s been relatively quiet prior to July, in the last couple of months there has not been that much activity at all and we thought it was getting back to normal living. On occasion, a truck would come, but it was so occasional.
“Nothing stops this guy,” the neighbor continued. “It’s bad enough listening to the trucks, but knowing what they’re doing makes it worse. Frustration is the best word right now.”
A stop-work order sent to Karolys by the DEC on July 2 stated that “the Department orders you to stop all earth-disturbing activities, excluding those activities necessary to install or maintain erosion and sediment control measures.” The order arose out of a raid by the agency on the dumps on May 17, where samples were taken by DEC officials for analysis.
According to the agency, Karolys does not have a State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System General Permit (SPEDES) for any of his properties and that processing C&D material on these sites could incur a $37,500 fine “per violation, per day.”
Karolys claimed on Wednesday that the material currently being brought to his sites will in fact be used to remediate the violations of state law that the DEC outlined in its notice of violation. When asked about the continued traffic to his properties on 1446 Route 212, 33 Fel Qui Road, 43 Fel Qui Road and Goat Hill Road, Karolys wrote to a reporter that “everyone who is in the excavating and trucking business has trucks coming on and off their properties this time of year.”
“The DEC has asked me to start implementation of erosion and sediment control measures on my properties,” wrote Karolys. “I have been bringing in aggregate materials to improve my site on Route 212 and will continue to improve the site conditions to mitigate dust and runoff … [and] do grading work.”
As an aside, Karolys also wrote that he planned to develop the Fel Qui property into a solar farm. “It’s the perfect site for it because it gets sun all day long. In fact, the town must agree because they are building a solar array right next door on the municipal landfill.”
The only days that no activity took place, according to Ferraro’s footage, were July 4 and July 8. But Ferraro isn’t the only dump watchdog — a coalition of concerned neighbors have been keeping eyes on each of the offending properties, from their porches and via drones and cameras, to maintain a record of all of the activity taking place.
“I have a number of residents who routinely communicate with us about the activities in their neighborhoods, especially in the high woods area around Fel Qui and Goat Hill,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. “There are a number of engaged residents who monitor the activities and indicate to us whether there are activities,” Costello said. “We’ve gotten reports from a number of residents that trucking has continued and that there has been an increase in activity.”
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 from the C&D debris getting into surrounding well water, has been trying to halt Karolys’ 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. According to Costello, a meeting between the judge, the town’s attorneys and Karolys’ lawyer will take place in October.
“ I don’t know how, I don’t have any familiarity with how the judge sets his calendar, but we were hopeful that it would be sooner rather than later but it will be later rather than sooner,” said Costello.
Karolys has also 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.
According to the DEC’s July 2 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.
“DEC put Karolys on notice that his properties are in violation of the state’s solid waste and stormwater regulations, and DEC directed Karolys to immediately cease accepting solid waste at the properties, start removing the solid waste, and dispose of the waste properly at a legal facility,” wrote DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren via email this week. “DEC is pursuing an enforcement action that will include penalties and site cleanup for the continuing violations at all three Karolys properties.”
When asked for the specifics of this enforcement action, Wren said that “[she didn’t] know if we’re at the point that we would be getting it to that at this time.” According to Costello, “There’s the letter than came out of our region and there’s a pending document that’s going to come out of the DEC headquarters and that will be one step closer to [stopping illegal] activity on the properties,” but Wren did not elaborate.
Wren did offer more specifics on what materials were found by the DEC in their May raid. They include, she wrote, coal, slag, ash, glass, plaster and wood. According to state law, only “recognizable and uncontaminated concrete or concrete products, asphalt pavement, brick, glass, rock and general fill” are allowed in the dump.
Ferraro, for one, is losing patience with the slow-grinding mechanism of the law. “Why would Judge Mott allow this to continue to happen? He has the town’s hands tied and they can’t even enforce their own laws,” said Ferraro. “Meanwhile, this guy is in violation through the DEC, it’s proven that he’s contaminating water, but yet Judge Mott is continuing to allow him to run.”