Suit to stop Saugerties dumping still pending

Trucks can continue to come on and off Joe Karolys’ three construction and demolition debris dumping sites in Saugerties until at least September 11 after state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott adjourned an August 22 hearing in which the town was seeking to overturn the Temporary Restraining Order that prevents it from enforcing stop work orders at the sites. Although the court session, the fourth regarding the Article 78 suit filed against the town, spanned over five hours on that Thursday, five more witnesses are apparently still scheduled to take the stand, and Saugerties town attorney John Greco and Karolys’ attorney Melvin T. Higgins were unable to settle on an earlier date. Until judge Mott rules on the suit, the stop-work orders that building inspector Alvah Weeks issued against the properties in January of this year cannot be enforced, and dumping of materials from Long Island and New York City can continue.

According to Police Chief Joseph Sinagra, Karolys has also been charged with violations for dumping outside of the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. window allowed by the court, three counts on the morning of August 2 and another three counts on the morning of August 25.

Meanwhile, in town court on August 28, Karolys, who was being arraigned on those violations, did not enter a plea. Instead, he asked Town Justice Chris Kraft to move the proceedings to some other venue, saying he couldn’t get a fair trial in Saugerties due to the publicity surrounding this matter. Karolys was told by Kraft to produce a written argument as to why the proceedings should be moved by September 6. Kraft then rescheduled the arraignment for September 13.

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During the state Supreme Court hearing August 22, Karolys testified that he had never received a notice of violation from the state Department of Environmental Conservation or a separate stop work order sent by the agency. Both documents were apparently sent by certified mail, according to Greco. 

Karolys asserted that his constitutional rights were being violated, and this his right to use his property as he sees fit supersedes town zoning laws. Higgins also led Karolys through a line of questioning that was meant to demonstrate that his client would not be able to use his properties for monetary gain if the town’s stop-work orders were enforced, suggesting that media coverage labeling the properties as “contaminated” would decimate their resale value. According to testing ordered by the DEC, material samples from Karolys’ properties contain heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, and pesticides like DDT.

“I wouldn’t have any money to conduct any other business enterprise,” said Karolys when his lawyer asked what he would do if his current business model were compromised by the town’s stop work orders. “If I get shut down, I’m not even allowed to get trucks or equipment on the property…[I expect to lose] 200, 300 thousand dollars.”

Karolys posited that it would cost him “tens of thousands” of dollars to have the material currently situated on the property moved elsewhere. 

In the August 2 court session, DEC regional enforcement engineer David Pollock testified that he 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.

Greco showed Karolys images of the material taken from the site in the DEC raid, with each sample’s parts separated from each other.

“Where on your DEC registration does it permit you to accept coal, slag and ash?” asked Greco of materials represented in the visual; Karolys replied, “it doesn’t.”

When Greco asked whether Karolys could agree that the DEC found contaminants in his material, Karolys agreed…“If you’re counting a bottle cap or a coffee cup.”

“Looks to me like leaves, maybe? Looks like wood and leaves…Part of it could be pieces of brush…A leaf that fell on the road and got run over by a truck,” said Karolys when asked to identify material found on his Goat Hill site that was labeled ‘miscellaneous.’ “If a leaf falls off a tree, I don’t know how to control it being pulverized by a truck.”

Karolys also said that he is permitted to receive glass at his facility, although according to Greco that stipulation does not appear on his DEC registration.

Karolys said on the stand that he was not allowed to witness the samples being taken from his property, and has argued throughout the proceedings that DEC test results are incorrect. However, he has had no independent testing done on the material; he said Thursday that he “would be happy [to have testing done]…if it was requested by the court.” When asked why he hadn’t conducted any testing during his eight months of conflict with the town, he said that he was under the impression that any self-testing was prohibited by the court until May of 2020.

When asked whether or not he agreed that violations had been issued by the DEC for the sites, Higgins requested “immunity” for his client, hoping that his responses to that line of questioning would not be used against him during his criminal trial in Saugerties for dumping material outside the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. window outlined by the court. Mott refused the request.

“If at any time during these proceedings you feel that you’re compromising the criminal charges that are placed against you, you certainly have a right to invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination,” Judge Mott told Karolys.

Karolys said during the hearing that he was unaware that he needed a permit for placing C&D material on his Fel Qui and Goat Hill sites.

Higgins summoned Daniel Riozzi, a local general contractor who said he has purchased an estimated 20 to 30 loads of material from Karolys, to attest to latter’s character and the composition of his fill material.

“It seemed exactly what I was looking for, I didn’t have any problem with it,” said Riozzi of the material, which he said he had seen Karolys screening in one instance. He also said that he had received no complaints about the material, which he used to “put fillings” around homes and for sub base material in driveways. However, Riozzi admitted after a bout of questioning by Greco that he had not, in fact, had the material that he purchased from Karolys tested.

The same group of about 40 neighbors attended the hearing.

“They’re all afraid for their drinking water,” said Town Supervisor Fred Costello in response to the packed room.

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