Case against Saugerties demolition debris dumps drags on

Jospeh Karolys and Attorney Melvin Higgins at a ZBA meeting in April. (Photo by Dave Gordon)

Saugerties Town Attorney John Greco, seeking to cut to the chase, made a formal motion in State Supreme Court on Thursday, September 12 imploring Justice Richard Mott to end judicial proceedings and vacate the Temporary Restraining Order preventing the town of Saugerties from enforcing its stop-work orders issued earlier this year against three construction and demolition debris (C&D) dumping sites owned by Joe and Rachel Karolys. Greco argued that, because the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals agreed that zoning regulations were being flouted and affirmed the town’s stop work orders on April 18, per the parameters of a “show cause” order issued by Mott, the proceedings were “moot.” Mott declined Greco’s request, and the sixth installment of the slow-paced hearing proceeded. 

Meanwhile, a trial in town court to address Karolys’ violations of town laws forbidding the dumping of any C&D material from outside of the town’s limits has been postponed. At an August 28, Karolys’ attorney Melvin T. Higgins requested a jury trial on the charges and a change of venue for the proceedings, arguing that his client could not receive a fair trial in Saugerties. After a session on September 12, the day before the trial was scheduled, presiding Town Justice Chris Kraft met with Greco and Higgins and chose to recuse himself from the case because “he ha[d] relationships with people who have been advocating against Karolys and he felt that these relationships were relevant in his ability to make a decision” according to Town Supervisor Fred Costello. For similar reasons, Town Justice Claudia Andreassen also recused herself; Costello said that the trial will be heard in Ulster County Court or another jurisdiction, but that no date has been established. 

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Karolys faces violations for accepting loads of C&D material outside of the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. time window specified in the stipulations of the Temporary Restraining Order, violations of town zoning law and violations of the town’s municipal statutes.

“Now we are in a holding pattern until the county court makes a decision whether the county court will take on the trial or if it will be reassigned to a justice court,” said Costello on September 17.

Back in State Supreme Court September 12, testimony from Joe Mihm, an engineer from Brinier and Larios who Greco hoped to put on the stand, was also delayed. Mihm had come to refute the testimony of Karolys’ environmental engineering expert Robert LoPinto of Walden Engineering, who argued that there were slipshod sampling methods used and mathematical errors in DEC test results that indicated unsafe levels of heavy metals and pesticides like DDT. Higgins, Karolys’ attorney, objected on the grounds that LoPinto was not present that day, while Mihm had been present during both days that LoPinto testified. Greco noted on the record that he intends to bring Mihm to the stand at the next iteration of the court hearing on Thursday, September 19 at 2:40 p.m.

However, Mott has said at previous court hearings that the DEC’s findings, whether they are correct or not, have no bearing on this court hearing concerning whether the town issued stop-work orders unfairly.

“Let’s assume this is true and DEC totally botched this entire process,” said Mott to Higgins at the Sept. 11 hearing. “How is that relevant in any way shape or form to any disparate treatment that your client received at the hands of the respondent, which I have been asking you to focus on for this entire testimony?”

During the testimony of Saugerties Assistant Code Enforcement Officer Ken Brown, both lawyers put details regarding the originally issued stop work orders and photographs taken by Brown and Code Enforcement Officer Alvah Weeks of the properties on the record. The first stop-work order, Brown said, was issued for the Karolys dumping property on Goat Hill on July 2 of 2018. Although Higgins has argued that Karolys was unaware of the order, which Brown said was nailed to a tree on the property and sent via certified mail, an office visit took place between Karolys, Brown and Weeks.

“I don’t know why he went in [for an office visit,]” said a visibly flustered Higgins when Mott asked if he maintained the defense that Karolys wasn’t aware of the order. “I don’t recall, your honor.”

Higgins tried to assert that the line of questioning should not be explored until Weeks, who signed off on the stop work order, was present. Mott dismissed this notion, because Greco had established that Brown was the official keeper of building department records.

“The town issued a statement that my client, on that site, could do a C&D business,” objected Higgins when Greco asked Brown whether a C&D facility was permissible under town zoning law. “They changed their mind…that’s the basis of the lawsuit.”

On January 24, 2019, five days after a stop-work order was issued for the Route 212 site, Brown said that the piles were 15 to 20 feet high. The land disturbance at the Fel Qui site at that time was about an acre, and that the piles on the property had nearly reached the height of surrounding power lines, what he estimated to be “20 to 30 feet.” Higgins objected to this inexact description.

“If I asked you how long the table was in front of you, wouldn’t you give an estimate without putting a ruler to it,” replied Mott.

Brown said that, in addition to the C&D debris, he and Weeks saw electrical conduit couplings, rebar and wire on the Fel Qui site. Numerous photos of each of the sites, after Brown confirmed that he took them, were moved into evidence.

Greco asked Brown whether zoning law permitted demolition debris processing facilities on each of the sites. Brown said no each time.

The next court session was scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 19 at 2:40 p.m.

There are 2 comments

  1. Nineteen Wheeler

    Shut down the street to all entrances to the properties. The neighbors will no longer have thru access, to put in two “Dead End ” signs and make open a thru street some place else, even if you have to dig one.
    The cost of that may end up being less than having a Super-Fund site. Again.

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