As court case plays out, trucks keep rolling into controversial Saugerties dumps

Courtroom sketch of Joe Karolys and his attorney Melvin Higgins by Shanti Payne.

Saugerties resident Joe Karolys and his legal counsel asserted that the town’s anti-dumping laws were being selectively enforced at the second installment of a state supreme court hearing on August 12 to determine whether his controversial construction and demolition debris dumps can remain open. Karolys’ Attorney Melvin T. Higgins entered several photographs of other neighborhood heaps of material into evidence and argued that they, too, break local and state Department of Environmental Conservation laws. One of the heaps in question is located on Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr.’s property.

“A photograph of a pile of gravel is in no way relevant to this proceeding,” countered Town Attorney John Greco of the depicted material on Costello’s property in one of eleven objections he raised throughout the proceeding.

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Greco also placed in evidence records of a court-ordered May DEC raid that turned up 39 violations of clean water and solid waste disposal laws on Karolys’ three properties being used as dump sites. Those records include test results indicating the presence of heavy metals such as 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 town is asking State Supreme Court Justice Richard Mott to lift his temporary restraining order that prevents the town from enforcing its laws while Karolys’ appeals the town’s stop work orders for the three sites.

But after an approximate two hour session, Justice Mott called a halt to the proceedings, which will continue at 2 p.m. Monday, August 19 at the County Courthouse, 275 Wall St., Kingston. 

In the meantime, whistle blower and neighbor Mike Ferraro, who initially brought the town’s attention to Karolys’ dumping operation, said that between eight and 10 trucks have come onto the property each day since the first iteration of the hearing. Ferraro monitors activities at the site with a surveillance camera on his property that captures the driveway of the 1446 Route 212 property.

Due to the Judge’s restraining order, the trucks are apparently bearing loads of demolition debris and material from Long Island and the New York Metropolitan area onto Karolys’ properties at 1446 Route 212, 90 Goat Hill Road, 33 Fel Qui Road and 43 Fel Qui Road without repercussion from town-level law enforcement, provided that they do so during the time period of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. specified by the court.

Waiting outside the courtroom were town of Saugerties police officers, who will eventually provide testimony detailing their August 2 issuance of violations to Karolys. Although they are restricted by the temporary restraining order, a 6 a.m. dumping session outside of the court-issued time window afforded the opportunity for an arrest. The town hopes that, by demonstrating that Karolys flouted the court order and showing that the material is tainted, they can convince Mott to lift the order.

Among properties cited by Karolys’ defense are Rothe Recycling, the parking lot off Jane Street behind The Partition Bar (deemed irrelevant because of its location in the separate jurisdiction of the village), another property on Route 212, a property on Route 32 and the Town Transfer Station. Introduced in the proceedings were photographs of the properties taken by Karolys over the course of this year; despite being peppered with objections from Greco, Karolys identified various machines and materials on the properties, like wood grindings, stumps and concrete. Also filed into evidence was a page of the DEC’s website enumerating what is considered “clean” fill.

But Mott questioned the tactic. 

“It has been determined that your client is dumping toxic material. Unless you can demonstrate that other people have been dumping toxic material, I don’t think that you can [argue that the town is engaging in] selective elective enforcement,” said Mott. “…You have made assertions that other people are being permitted to dump toxic things on their property without a permit. What does that have to do with the transfer station?”

Higgins also led Karolys through a recounting of a police blockade on his property on January 25 of this year, after town Building Inspector Alvah Weeks initially issued the contested stop work orders. When Karolys filed an appeal with the town’s zoning board of appeals, the orders were automatically stayed; Weeks, in response, filed a “certificate of imminent peril” which automatically reinstated them. Then, Karolys filed an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court challenging the town’s legal moves, which led to the current restraining order.

Although the DEC and the County Department of Health, with County Executive Pat Ryan’s backing, have issued stop work orders for the property, it is unclear whether they can or will intervene.

“DEC will not tolerate violations of New York’s strict environmental laws, which were put in place to protect public health and the environment,” wrote Stephanie Mossey of the agency via email last month in response to its stop work order. “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 begin removing the solid waste and dispose of it properly at a legal facility. He has not complied, and DEC is pursuing an enforcement action that includes penalties and requires site cleanup for the continuing violations at all three Karolys properties.”

The agency is also pursuing a consent order, which would leverage the lessening or eliminate issued fines in exchange for court-mandated assurance that Karolys would clean up his properties at his own expense.

But even if the restraining order is lifted by Judge Mott, Karolys won’t be hauled off in handcuffs, as the local law violations are “unclassified crimes” according to Police Chief Joe Sinagra, However, summons can be issued for the local town court.

“Mr. Karolys has never filed a complaint with the police department against anyone that may be doing something similar to him,” said Sinagra of the selective enforcement claims. “If you rob a bank, do you go back and say that other people rob banks? There is no selective enforcement. When the town becomes aware of it, they’ll pursue it.”

Costello remained stone-faced at the hearing, even when he was implicated for dumping himself.

“It’s like an adult trying to redirect a child and the child’s response is ‘well, he did it too,’” said Costello. “It has no bearing on what it’s here for today. This material came from out of our area…the DEC is welcome on [my property] any time.”

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