County legislators voted 18-2 to tighten up the definition of “refuse” in Chapter 304 of the county code on Sept. 19, prompted to action by instances of construction and demolition debris trucked in from downstate and New Jersey to communities like Saugerties and Rochester.
If signed by County Executive Pat Ryan, the new law would redefine the county’s legal definition of “refuse” to include industrial waste and dredge material along with garbage, even industrial waste that’s regulated and allowed by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The legislation will beef up Chapter 304 of the county code, which outlaws any dumping of “refuse material” produced outside the county within the county and limits local dumping operations to taking in 60 tons per week. Currently, the chapter defines refuse as “garbage, rubbish, industrial waste and dredge material”; the revamped law will define the outlawed material more thoroughly to avoid any misinterpretation.
“The Town of Saugerties has been involved in a major environmental disaster in our community due to the dumping of inappropriate materials in properties in the Town of Saugerties,” said Saugerties town councilwoman and Esopus Creek Conservancy President Leeanne Thornton before the vote. “There’s well over 25 to 30 homeowners in that area who have been negatively affected … the resolution is not going to help Saugerties at this point or the town of Rochester, but it will certainly help every other community in Ulster county from having to go through the extensive legal process and the frustration as a homeowner that these people are feeling, not knowing if their water is safe to drink, not knowing how long they have to have bottled water, not knowing if the traffic is safe [for their children to go outside to play] because of these trucks going up and down these roads.”
The new law will specifically outlaw concrete, brick, asphalt, asbestos, drywall, plaster, roofing materials, wood, metal, tiles, paint chips, ash, slag, coal, pieces of particle board, carpet and petroleum-contaminated soil from being dumped in Ulster. Separately and explicitly defined, the law will also prohibit the dumping of construction and demolition debris from outside Ulster County and enumerate precisely what C&D consists of: “uncontaminated solid waste resulting from construction, remodeling, repair and demolition of utilities, structures and roads … and uncontaminated solid waste resulting from land-clearing.”
Legislator Laura Petit (D-Port Ewen) said she authored the local law in response to Joe Karolys’ controversial C&D waste dumping operation in Saugerties, which has left the town suspended between conflicting town and county laws and unable, despite stop-work orders from the town, county and state, to stop the daily parade of debris-dumping trucks coming in from downstate. Petit said a similar situation currently unfolding in the Town of Rochester was inspiration as well.
“I mean, just because it’s happening in Saugerties now doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen in the rest of the county, and I’ve heard rumors that there already is,” said District 1 Legislator Mary Wawro (R-Saugerties), who’s cosponsoring the measure. “I think we kind of thought [the Saugerties law] protected us and it has to be tweaked.”