In the third session of a state Supreme Court hearing on the matter of alleged illegal C&D material dumping, Saugerties resident Joe Karolys’ counsel argued on Monday, August 21 that samples of construction and demolition material on his client’s property taken by state Department of Environmental Conservation personnel indicating the presence of pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury were false, and that media attention vilifying his client as a “polluter” had irreparably damaged his business.
The hearing before Judge Richard Mott was the latest in an ongoing proceeding to determine whether Karolys’ three construction and demolition material dumps at 1446 Route 212, where Karolys lives, 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road and 90 Goat Hill Road would be allowed to stay open in the face of stop-work orders from the town, the county and the state.
In a direct-examination session peppered with objections and procedural admonishments from a seemingly irritated Mott, Karolys’ lawyer, Melvin T. Higgins, guided his client through his observations of other piles of material around Saugerties, arguing that the town has selectively enforced its anti-dumping laws, which prohibit the placement of any C&D material from outside of town. Karolys’ material, he freely admits, comes from New York City and areas of Long Island.
“[I have been the subject of news articles and radio broadcasts] on numerous occasions, more than I could ever remember,” said Karolys on the stand. “[My reputation in the community is] terrible because everybody thinks I’m a polluter…all the newspaper articles and just the way people talk.”
Higgins pointed a finger at the town transfer station, asking a spate of questions about the material there and Karolys’ recollections of allegedly inadequate freon disposal techniques. He suggested that the town landfill was close to Karolys’ Fel Qui site and could have contributed to any results indicating contamination. Karolys also briefly claimed that his site at 90 Goat Hill Road could be affected by material flowing onto the property from the Woodstock transfer station.
“I am indicating that the town accepts material that is C&D material and suggesting that it is taken out to other places,” said Higgins. “I am further suggesting that the town allows materials to pile up so fluid flows through it onto my client’s property.”
Saugerties Town Attorney John Greco, who finally got the chance to cross-examine Karolys on Monday, noted that the same contaminates were found on all three Karolys sites, and that the Route 212 site was not close enough to either transfer station to be affected by potential contamination at either site.
Greco showed Karolys a copy of his DEC registration; although he is licensed by the DEC to process C&D material, the second page of the registration states that he must adhere to local laws while doing so. Karolys asserted that he had never received the second page of the registration that included this passage. Karolys also claimed to have never received a stop-work order from the DEC, which enumerated 39 total violations of clean water and Part 360 waste disposal laws.
While Karolys argued that DEC test results were inaccurate, Greco asked Karolys whether he had done any independent testing of his own material to prove otherwise; Karolys said he had not. He then asked whether Karolys had done any testing of the materials on the properties that were being presented as examples of dumps that were allowed to operate.
“Where are all the samples and testing that your expert conducted to dispute the findings of the DEC? You say that your expert disputes the contamination findings of DEC,” said Greco. “I’m asking you to produce those [samples] for us.”
At an earlier court session, Higgins put on the stand environmental engineer Robert LoPinto to challenge the DEC’s sampling process. LoPinto testified that because a DEC official said 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. This witness was quickly dismissed Mott, however, and Karolys said LoPinto did not actually take any samples from the properties in question. Karolys said that, according to LoPinto, there were “mathematical errors” in the DEC’s findings; when asked by Greco to elaborate, he replied that he “[was] not a chemist.”
Saugerties officers to testify
Gasps rippled through the courtroom Monday when Karolys claimed that he had stopped work on his properties between the time when he was issued stop-work orders from the town and when he filed an Article 78 proceeding challenging the orders, which led to another judge’s issuing a restraining order against the town which has allowed Karolys’ dumps to keep operating.
“He’s lying!” seethed one person in attendance.
“To my ears, Karolys lied on the stand several times,” said Claudine Heller, who lives in the vicinity of the site on Fel Qui Road and has been given bottled water to drink from the Department of Health for the past several months. “But hey, it’s Joe.”
After just over an hour, Mott adjourned the hearing to start up again on Thursday, August 22 at 10:20 a.m. Town of Saugerties police officers who were ready to testify on the stand will return to attest to the fact that Karolys has brought material on and off his properties outside of the court-stipulated 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. window. Earlier this month, town police stopped a few trucks which had arrived one morning before 7 a.m., arrested Karolys and charged him with breaking a number of state and local laws.
During cross-examination Monday, Greco asked Karolys if he had in fact ever operated outside the 7 a.m-3 p.m. window.
“On occasion a truck gets stuck in traffic and has to wait around,” Karolys replied. “I would say that if someone gets caught in traffic, we’re not going to turn them around and send them back two hours…I’m trying to be practical, Mr. Greco.”
Many who said they were neighbors of Karolys and are worried about their water quality were in court Monday. Few seemed happy with what was going on.
“I don’t have $500 to spend on water testing, but I can’t afford not to. We deserve to have clean drinking water. We moved up here to live in paradise and someone built a toxic dump up the hill from my well,” said Danny Hendlin, who lives downhill from the Goat Hill site. Hendlin works at excavating company Ashley Homes and was at Monday’s hearing. “I’m a builder, I’m in favor of people making money, but there are many ways to make money without polluting my well.”
Speaking after the hearing, Hendlin said Karolys’ operations are not consistent with a typical trucking and excavation operation: “We don’t dispose of any material, we bring in material for resale.” He said that on a busy day at the Goat Hill site, between three and five trucks come by within the span of an hour.
“Greco should ask, ‘Do any of those other people have stop work orders, or stop work orders from the DEC, or the Department of Health?” opined Hendlin. “He should ask if anyone has tested their soil and found heavy metals or pesticides.”
– Christina Coulter