On August 2, less than a week before he was due in court to make the case to keep his controversial construction and demolition debris dumps open in the face of stop-work orders, Joe Karolys was arrested and charged with illegal dumping, town police said.
In state Supreme Court in Kingston Wednesday morning August 7, Police Chief Joseph Sinagra was prepared to take the witness stand to attest to the reason for the arrests — trucks arriving at the dump on Route 212 an hour before the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. time window each day that Karolys is permitted to operate, according to a previous court order by state Supreme Justice Richard Mott.
But only two witnesses were examined before the judge adjourned the hearing to begin again at 2:15 p.m. Monday, August 12.
Eight trucks bearing C&D material came on and off Karolys’ 1446 Route 212 property at 7 a.m. on August 7, less than two hours before the hearing, according to eyewitness testimony from neighbors. Security footage from a neighboring property shows trucking traffic at the property while the hearing itself was taking place.
Back on August 2, according to police, officers spotted “a number” of tractor-trailers dumping materials at 6 a.m. on Karolys’ 1446 Route 212 property; the parameters of the temporary restraining order, initially issued in February of this year by Judge Christopher Cahill, only allows trucks to arrive between 7 a.m-3 p.m. Officers, who were waiting, stopped the trucks which arrived at 6 a.m. and confirmed with the drivers that the materials dumped had been transported up from New York City.
Police said Karolys was charged Friday with “violating New York State executive law; violating Town of Saugerties dumping law; [and] violating Town of Saugerties’ zoning regulation in special use districts.” Police said he was released pending an August 22 appearance in town court, set for 2 p.m.
“We have been restrained by the court order for the whole year basically, since February,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr.
“We actually documented it ourselves, our officers witnessed it,” Chief Sinagra said. “A few people are willing to sign the complaint. Nine out of 10 times [when neighbors report trucks coming on and off the property and we send officers to respond], we pass the truck and it’s empty — our officers witnessed the dumping taking place at 6 a.m., and now we have direct knowledge [of the activity.]”
Sinagra said Karolys had been warned that if he operated outside the 7 a.m.-3 p.m. window, there would be consequences. “It’s not like this is the first time,” the chief said. “It just fell on deaf ears.”
Karolys’ attorney, Melvin T. Higgins, argued in court Wednesday that the town is enforcing its dumping laws selectively, and that the temporary restraining order should be maintained to protect his client. Higgins’ called Karolys himself as his witness to illustrate this point.
“In the area of my facility, I haven’t seen any other trucks pulled over other than mine or my clients’ trucks. I can’t speak for the other side of town, but in the area of my facility within the past year I haven’t seen any other trucks pulled over other than my trucks,” Karolys said, under oath.
As an example of selective enforcement, Karolys cited Rothe Recycling across the street. Mott said that unless Karolys were “omnipresent,” he would not be able to make such a definitive statement. Also to this end, Higgins presented a blurry photograph taken by Karolys of a business on Route 9W with visible piles of construction and demolition material.
For Karolys’ lawyer to make the case for a maintained restraining order, Mott said, Higgins has to demonstrate that Karolys and his business will suffer irreparable harm as a result of the town’s enforcement action, a likelihood that they will prevail when the matter reaches trial and that the “equities rule in [their] favor.”
“He’s under direction of the [state Department of Environmental Conservation] not to take in any construction and demolition debris, so how would the town’s stop work orders offer him any irreparable harm when he’s already been ordered to stop by the state,” said Town Attorney John Greco at the hearing.
The courtroom had about 40 on hand; gasps rippled through it when DEC regional enforcement engineer David Pollock estimated the amount of fill found at each property during a court-ordered raid in May on Karolys’ three dumpsites. According to Pollock, 40,000 cubic yards of fill sit on the 90 Goat Hill Road property. He said that 15,000 to 20,000 cubic yards have been estimated on the Fel Qui site and 1,500 at the main processing site on Route 212, the only one of the sites with a permit to accept such material from the DEC, and where Karolys lives. Karolys is only permitted, Pollock said, to accept 5,000 cubic yards of material within his operation’s entire lifetime.
A court-ordered May DEC raid turned up 39 violations of clean water and solid waste disposal laws and test results indicating the presence of 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. On the witness stand, Karolys said that he only accepted “recognizable uncontaminated asphalt, concrete, rock, brick and soil” at his facility.
The DEC says the operation has been in violation of its dumping rules since 2016. The violations uncovered were enumerated in an official stop-work order, which Pollock said was both emailed and sent by certified mail to Karolys. Higgins argued that Karolys had not received this notice. (When the agency’s stop-work order was released, the Saugerties Times called Karolys, who claimed not to have received any correspondence from the organization, and sent him the documents in question.)
Higgins brought forth environmental engineer Robert LoPinto from Walden Environmental Engineering, which is based in Oyster Bay and has a facility in Hopewell Junction, to challenge the veracity of the DEC sampling process. LoPinto said that, because Pollock said that his team used “scoops” to collect the material before jarring it and sending it for testing, that the material was only taken from the top layer of the fill and may not be indicative of the composition of the whole.
Judge Mott said this testimony would be relevant in the ultimate trial between Karolys and the town, should one occur, but was not related to whether the restraining order should be maintained. “I’m not having a full-blown trial today on the ultimate issues in this case,” Mott said.
“The judge indicated that within the context of this proceeding he’s not trying the merit of validity of the DEC findings, just taking into consideration that this notice of violation has been issued,” explained Greco. “That is the change of circumstances that has made the judge reconsider the restraining order [and move the date of this hearing to August from its originally scheduled date in October.] The DEC is not on trial in this case, what’s relevant to this case are the zoning violations, the anti dumping violations and the storm water pollution prevention violations. Those are the merits that the judge has to consider.”
Costello said that since July 27, more than 60 trucks have come on and off the property, as evidenced by neighbor’s surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts.
“There has to be some implication for the ignorance of this law by the town Zoning Board of Appeals, the county, the state, the DEC and the court,” said Costello on Tuesday. “He just doesn’t seem to want to subject himself to the rule of law.”
“I believe in our case,” said Costello after court adjourned. “I want to be respectful of the process but we don’t know yet.”
“It’s tense because I can’t see the future,” said Susan Greenstein, a neighbor of the Fel Qui site who has been ardently following the unfolding saga and was in court Wednesday. “To us, with all of the evidence and all of the laws that have been broken and all of everything that’s happened and the defiance of the laws and the rules on the part of Mr. Karolys … He just keeps getting away with it, so I’m going, ‘Is the justice system going to work this time, or will there be another delay?’ In the meantime, people’s wells have been ruined. What about the people whose lives have been totally messed up by this?”