On Wednesday afternoon, County Health Commissioner Dr. Carol Smith issued a stop-work order for Joe and Rachel Karolys’ illegal construction and demolition debris dump sites in Saugerties.
The order comes on the heels of a chemical analysis of material taken from the properties on a May 17 court-ordered raid by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. (The agency has also issued Karolys a stop-work order of its own.) Among contaminants found in the six samples taken from the three properties, according to DEC documents, are heavy metals like mercury, lead and zinc; coal ash, coal and slag; and nine chemicals deemed to be “probable carcinogens,” including the banned-for-decades pesticide DDT.
“The actions of the [Karolyses] are egregious and threaten the health and public safety of the residents of Saugerties,” wrote County Executive Pat Ryan in a press release. “We will not stand by and allow someone to show such disdain for their neighbors, the environment, and the law. My office will continue to monitor this situation and we will not hesitate to take additional action should these polluters continue to act in such a reckless manner.”
Karolys did not return a request for comment. Despite the stop-work order from the DEC, neighbors report trucks go in and out of the three dumpsites on a regular basis.
According to Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr., a hearing where state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott will rule on the validity of the town’s stop-work orders issued by town Building Inspector Alvah Weeks against the Karolys properties will take place on Aug. 7, two months earlier than originally scheduled. Costello said the newly available test results convinced the court to move up the hearing date.
At their last town board meeting, councilmen hired engineers at Chazen Companies to conduct further soil samples; a sampling is scheduled on a neighboring property to the Goat Hill Road site, the results of which will be available within five weeks, according to the company.
While the DEC’s results are troubling, they aren’t conclusive, as they were taken from small samples of a large mass, Catskill Mountainkeeper stated in a release.
“We don’t know at this point what proportion of that volume is contaminated with the compounds that were found in the DEC’s limited soil testing,” said Kathy Nolan, senior research director at Catskill Mountainkeeper and a county legislator.
“It could be a tiny percent or a very large percent and we have to act as though it’s the largest risk of contaminants leaving the site, which is why the laws are written to prevent the kinds of activities that Joe and Rachel Karolys have been engaging in … The hallmark of the environmental and the health response is containment of whatever a material is already at the site until it can be removed. Those were the actions that the neighbors and the neighbors’ allies have been calling for from the beginning, without any evidence that any of it contained contaminants. the fact that there any samples that show contaminants above regulated levels just underscores the importance of obtaining that containment and removal right away followed by site remediation.”
The chemicals found on the sites, in no particular order, are gamma bhc, found in two of the six samples taken across the three sites; p,p’-DDT only found on the Fel Qui Road site; p,p’-DDE, also only found on the Fel Qui Road site; benzo(a)pyrene, found on three of the sites; benzo(a)anthracene, found on three of the sites; benzo(b)flouranthene, found on the Route 212 site and one of the Fel Qui Road sites; chrysene, found on the Route 212 and Fel Qui Road sites; dibenz(a,h)anthracene, found only in one of the Fel Qui Road samples and indeno(1,2,3-c,d)pyrene, found in three of the six samples taken.
Currently, town engineers speculate that there is “over 165,000 tons” of C&D material on Karolys’ properties on 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road, 90 Goat Hill Road and the site at 1446 Route 212, where Karolys processes the fill material and lives with his family, in a house surrounded by mounds of fill. While the Route 212 site is technically licensed by the DEC to accept construction and demolition material, the dumping of any C&D material from outside the town’s boundaries is prohibited in municipal law. The other two sites are residentially zoned, and should not accept any C&D material at all.
“Hopefully, the magnitude of all the local governing bodies saying the same thing will help us get a resolution,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello. “We need a resolution to this now, there’s a broad consensus of understanding now that this material is not clean and there’s a broad consensus that it’s being dumped here unlawfully and we want to find a resolution to this problem, period.”
When the town’s building inspector issued stop work orders for all three sites in January, Karolys filed an Article 78 motion challenging the decision in state Supreme Court; Justice Richard Mott prohibited the town from enforcing their orders while he determined whether the orders were extended lawfully. With their hands tied and a hearing scheduled with the judge in October, months away, town officials have implored outside agencies to halt operations.
“I do hereby order and direct that the above-named property owners cease and desist from bringing any and all solid waste materials inclusive of contaminated construction and demolition debris into Ulster County,” wrote Smith in her stop work order to the Karolyses. “Failure to comply with this Commissioner’s order may result in enforcement actions pursuant to law.”
However, according to property neighbors, the trucks are still coming. Mike Ferraro, who lives across the street from Karolys’ Route 212 property, 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.
“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.”
“The results from DEC’s sampling of the onsite waste found at three Karolys sites in Saugerties are consistent with the findings of similar illegal C&D debris dump sites,” wrote DEC press person Wendy Rosenbach regarding the DEC’s findings. “DEC is aggressively pursuing an enforcement action against Karolys for these violations, which will include removal and proper disposal of the solid waste. DEC continues to rigorously monitor these three sites and ensure these sites are brought into compliance.”
In a letter to Karolys on July 2, 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. According to the 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. The DEC said 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, which the DEC claims was taking place, unless the facility is exempt from its Part 360 regulations.
Karolys has been openly selling topsoil via Facebook and Craigslist; Rosenbach advises anyone who has received any material from Karolys to contact DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement at (845) 256-3013. Nolan said Environmental Labworks of Marlboro and Smith Laboratory in Hyde Park offer broad screening services, should residents want to test the groundwater on their properties.