On Thursday, Dec. 12 a fast-approaching Mack truck cut through the early-morning hush of Route 212 in the Town of Saugerties, just a few minutes away from depositing another load of construction and demolition debris at Joe Karolys’ dump.
But after 10 months of court-ordered inaction in enforcing the numerous stop-work orders issued to Karolys, this morning there was action.
Looking a little like a matador facing down an angry bull, Sheriff Juan Figueroa stepped out into 212 and stopped the truck.
“Anybody who gets caught dumping here will get arrested and their truck impounded, do we understand each other?” said Saugerties Police Chief Joe Sinagra to the driver before ordering him out of the vehicle. A state trooper began weighing each axle of the vehicle; eight other police cars, lights flashing, dotted Route 212. An officer directed traffic on 212; one driver rolled down his window, pumped his fist in the air and whooped. Another truck from the same outfit arrived and was flagged down soon after the first.
What made this scene possible was state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott issuing his decision on Dec. 6, allowing the town to enforce the stop work-orders on Karolys’ properties that’d been stayed after Karolys filed an Article 78 proceeding challenging the orders’ validity. While town officials had wanted for the better part of a year to close Karolys’ dumps, they waited to give police the go-ahead until the decision was filed with the court clerk and served to Karolys’ lawyer, Melvin T. Higgins. Officials learned that Higgins received the decision at about 5 p.m. on Dec. 11.
“I’m actually surprised to see trucks show up,” said Sinagra as a state trooper began weighing the vehicle. “I thought Mr. Karolys was smarter than this.”
The material from the first truck, like many before it, came from a demolition site in New York City. Raymundo Morales, 53, said that Karolys never warned his hauling company, J&D Carrying and Construction Co. of Richmond Hill, that there might be a problem at the end of the line. Morales’ truck was 212 percent overweight, according to a state trooper at the scene. Moreover, police found Morales was carrying a Florida driver’s license that had been suspended after a DWI. He was arraigned in town court and sent to Ulster County Jail in lieu of $2,000 bail.
“I got pulled over,” said Morales on the phone before transitioning into Spanish — shortly afterwards he was cuffed and brought to police headquarters. Another truck from the same outfit was turned away by police; sources told the Saugerties Times that several 18-wheelers were seen getting back on the Thruway, perhaps because they had been warned by their colleagues. Sinagra said the impounded truck has numerous violations, and could rack up a $50,000 fine for the company.
He and Figueroa walked together to Karolys’ front door and waited; no one answered.
“We’re not picking on Mr. Karolys,” said Sinagra. “Rather than hide and wait to arrest drivers, we are showing Mr. Karolys that he can’t dump anymore. If we were being vindictive, we could have waited until the first truck dumped and arrested everybody.”
According to neighbors, Karolys has accepted over 10 18-wheelers full of construction and demolition waste per day since at least March — according to The Trucker’s Report, an 18-wheeler can accommodate 80,000 pounds, or 40 tons per load.
Since Karolys began operation, neighbors have been concerned that toxins contained in the C&D debris, collected from areas of Long Island and New York City and deposited on the sites, could get into their drinking water. Despite stop-work orders issued by the town, the county and the DEC — along with court-ordered test results conducted by the DEC indicating the presence of unsafe levels of heavy metals and pesticides like DDT — Karolys had continued to receive material ceaselessly until last week. The May DEC raid of Karolys’ Route 212 property (during which Karolys exposed his buttocks to a Daily Freeman reporter) uncovered 39 alleged violations of clean water and solid waste disposal laws at the Route 212 site.
“The [municipal code] prohibits the use of any lands other than the town of Saugerties transfer station for the dumping of, among other things, C&D or the operation of a C&D debris processing facility without a special permit,” wrote Mott in his 11-page decision. “[Karolys has] never applied for nor obtained a special permit as required … [and] failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits.”
The entire Article 78 proceeding, which spanned 10 sessions over 20 hours, was “rendered moot by the April 19, 2019 decision of the [Saugerties Zoning Board of Appeals] on the issues of land use pertaining to Route 212 and the certificates of imminent peril [issued by town building inspector Alvah Weeks].” Mott also attributed the fact that Karolys’ counsel failed to establish any “immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage” to his decision.
“If we impound it, we should definitely take samples,” said Mike Ferraro, Karolys’ neighbor. Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. confirmed that the town intends to test the material from the seized truck.
Promise made, promise kept
Ferraro has monitored the site since 2016, often with video surveillance equipment. In response, Karolys formed a wall that obscured part of Ferraro’s vantage from a portion of the material.
“He said, ‘Don’t go causing trouble,'” recalled Ferraro of his first, and so far only, face-to-face confrontation with Karolys. “And I said, ‘I’m not going to cause any trouble, Joe. I’m going to shut you down.'”
Minutes before a flurry of activity and police vehicles splayed themselves out on the Karolys property Thursday morning, Rachel Karolys and her two children got into an idling black pickup truck and left the property quietly. At approximately 8:45 a.m., Karolys and two men drove onto the property, eking past a police car that only partially blocked the driveway. He drove to the back of his property and went inside, not to re-emerge that morning.
“I thought once the building department pointed out that he needed to go to the planning board and that he was operating outside of his DEC permit he would stop,” said Costello in retrospect. “I never expected we would have to go through a 10-month legal fight.”
Figueroa said that the sheriff’s department would assist in the monitoring of the sites for an undetermined amount of time and “give the [Saugerties Police Department] whatever they need.”
A representative from the DEC said Dec. 13 that attempts to negotiate a consent order, where fines are leveraged in exchange for a pledge from Karolys to properly remove the waste from the sites, had been unsuccessful.
“DEC put Karolys on notice that his properties are in violation of the state’s solid waste and stormwater regulations, and DEC directed Karolys to immediately begin removing the solid waste and dispose of it properly at a legal facility,” wrote DEC spokesperson Maureen Wren in an email. “He has not complied, and DEC submitted the referral to the Office of the Attorney General on August 5, 2019.”
Ferraro said that a representative from the state Attorney General’s Office had come to surveil the site periodically over the last few weeks but the office did not respond to a request for comment.
Other local officials joined the chorus of happiness over the closure. County Legislator Joe Maloney Jr., along with Legislator Laura Petit, sponsored and got passed a new law banning in Ulster the dumping of C&D and related materials which come from outside the county. “This isn’t the only site in the county, but it should be the last,” Maloney said.
“[Karolys’] reckless actions have threatened the health and public safety of the residents of Saugerties,” said County Executive Pat Ryan. “Ulster County will not now or ever tolerate dumping and those who wish to pollute our county.”