Shivering and chanting on a cold and snowy Tuesday morning, a group of about 30 protestors confronted oncoming trucks laden with construction and demolition debris depositing their loads at 1446 Route 212, the home of Saugerties resident Joe Karolys. This is one of three sites in Saugerties where, in what the state DEC and the town of Saugerties believe to be violations of state, town zoning and municipal law, the smashed remains of demolished buildings pile ever higher. Among slogans shouted at the drivers through a bullhorn were “dump here no more, dump here never” harkening back to the slogan adopted by Saugerties when the county considered situating a megadump at Winston Farm. Others included “you break the law, you go to jail” and, simply, “shame on you, go home.”
With apparent glee, some protesters reported that one of the trucks had swerved slightly coming onto the property, probably due to the persistent snowfall that closed local schools on Nov. 12. Bearing signs displaying messages like “enough of your garbage” and “unlike a good neighbor, Karolys dumps everywhere,” the group stayed at the site until the snow stopped falling at 9 a.m.
“We realized that a lot of people didn’t know that Karolys was still dumping,” said protest organizer Greg Cornell, a neighbor to the Route 212 site who has closely followed and spoken out against the dumping since April. “[We organized this] to get the word out that there’s still a problem and that the [state Department of Environmental Conservation’s stop-work order] didn’t stop them.”
Protestors arrived at 6:30 a.m., hoping to catch dump trucks coming to the site before 7 a.m.; the temporary restraining order preventing town police from enforcing the town’s own stop-work order until the matter is decided by a judge only allows trucks to arrive on the site between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Karolys is facing charges in town court alleging that some trucks didn’t abide by this rule.)
However, protestors said that trucks waited at a nearby gas station for 7 a.m. to arrive, then began depositing material; they alleged that the drivers had been tipped off by an article published by a newspaper the day before that announced the time of the planned protest. According to protestors, five trucks arrived within about five minutes of each other, starting at precisely 7 a.m. They said that the trucks bore the brands of companies based in Queens and Long Island.
Meanwhile, County Executive Pat Ryan penned a letter to State Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday, Nov. 13 urging her office to immediately investigate Karolys. In the letter Ryan expressed his “frustrat[ion] with this process and Mr. Karolys’s lack of response to multiple authorities that have asked him to cease such practices.”
Ryan, at the scene of the protest on Tuesday, commiserated with protestors, assuring them that despite ineffectual stop-work orders from the town, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the county health department, officials are “going to do what [they] can.”
Ryan seemed optimistic that a recent amendment to Chapter 304 to the county code, which was approved by the county legislature in September and he said would go into effect shortly, would give the county a “better enforcement mechanism” that could be “leveraged.”
The law more stringently defines prohibited waste and outlaws C&D material from outside of the county being dumped within the county. Ryan said that, leading up to the date of the law going into effect, he would communicate with the sheriff’s office to “figure out our enforcement mechanisms.”
“I think right now we have the legislation in place that we need,” he said to reporters covering the protest. “The big part of it is getting county and state, getting us all aligned and making sure that we all work together and applying the pressure from every angle. We have a little bit of the alphabet soup of all the agencies that will come into play, and my goal as the county executive is to quarterback that effort.”
A court-ordered sampling by the DEC of material on his three properties in May showed levels of lead, zinc and mercury in samples taken from all three properties that were below the allowable threshold set in state law. But at the 1446 Route 212 site and the Fel Qui Road site, excess quantities of benzo(a)anthracene, benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(b)flouranthene, benzo(k)fluoranthene, chrysene and indendo(1,2,3-C,D) pyrene were found. Additionally, at the Fel Qui site, lindane, DDE and the decades-banned DDT were found. These findings have been disputed by Karolys’ legal counsel. Neighbors of the dumpsites have complained for more than a year of dust and noise from the seemingly endless convoy of waste-laden trucks and are afraid toxins from the debris will foul their drinking water.
After addressing protestors, Ryan was ferried to each site by Mike Ferraro, the whistleblower who initially notified authorities to Karolys’ activity and monitors the trucks’ activity using security equipment.
“That whole hill here? Jesus,” said Ryan when confronted with the mound at 90 Goat Hill Road.
“That’s one of the biggest things in court,” replied Ferraro. “The judge doesn’t realize how much material is here. It doesn’t register.”
Michelle Hinchey, 2020 state Senate hopeful and daughter of the late congressman Maurice Hinchey, who was a perennial and tireless supporter of environmental advocacy and legislation, accompanied Ferraro and Ryan on the dump tour. Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. also participated.
“As a Saugerties resident and someone who lives in the community, this is a travesty,” said Hinchey. “Our community deserves better. We need to keep coming out and drawing attention to this — it helps set a precedent.”