Woodstock will test for contamination at Church St. dumping site

The Woodstock Town Board has approved testing soil and water for contamination of fill dumped in Shady by legally embattled landfill operator Joseph Karolys, but the move has legal challenges of its own.

Supervisor Bill McKenna first raised concern in January about material delivered to 10 Church Road in the Woodstock hamlet. Neighbors say they are concerned the town has done little since then to force propertyowner Vincent Conigliaro to remove the fill and to ensure drinking water is protected.

At the October 20 business meeting, councilman Lorin Rose introduced a resolution passed by the Woodstock Environmental Commission compelling the town to hire and pay for “an independent, qualified testing agency, not being a company owned or affiliated with any town employee” to test the water at 59 Reynolds Lane, which has a well 23 feet downhill from the Conigliaro property. The testing must be completed within 30 days, and then quarterly for one year and annually for up to three years.

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The town must also hire an independent firm with no ties to town employees to test the soil at 10 Church Road within 30 days, according to the resolution.

“It’s a disaster up there. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” said Rose. “We’ve got to do something about it. We’ve got to test the soil.”

Karolys, the subject of county and state regulation for multiple sites in Saugerties, delivered at least 100 truckloads of fill totaling about 1000 yards to the Shady location, officials estimate.

While supervisor McKenna agrees something must be done about the fill and residents’ water supply, he said the town can’t spend money to take action on private property without a judgment. The resolution cites town code referring to the authority of the zoning enforcement officer to take action on her own initiative to abate a hazard to public health and place a lien against the property to recover costs.

“The New York State Constitution prohibits us from expending money on private property, so our hands are tied,” McKenna said. He said the town code referring to the duties of the zoning enforcement officer addresses zoning violations, and that Conigliaro violated a different section of town code.

“There are no zoning violations. There’s a violation of our solid-waste law,” McKenna said. “They have been cited for dumping construction debris.”

The only recourse for dumping is a fine, $250 for a first violation, and then escalating up to $1000, McKenna said. It is difficult and time-consuming to build a case, he added.

Outside expert investigates

“There’s a lot of debris there. Knowing and proving in a court of law are two different things,” said McKenna, who had looked at the fill in January before being told to stay off the property.

He said building inspector and zoning enforcement officer Ellen Casciaro inspected the property numerous times, but could see no evidence construction material was in the fill. It appeared that someone may have buried it. Heavy summer rain brought the material to the surface and onto the Reynolds Lane property, indicating that construction debris was in the fill.

Neighbors then hired hydrogeologist Paul Rubin of the Tivoli firm HydroQuest to conduct preliminary tests and studies. Based on inspection of an August washout of the fill onto the Reynolds Lane property, Rubin found chunks of concrete, brick, plastic, burned logs, ceramic pipe, asphalt and stones amid dirt fill. It may also contain fly ash, a byproduct of coal-burning power plants used in the production of concrete, and perhaps heavy metals and other substances harmful to human health.

Based on the rock found, the fill came from outside Ulster County, Rubin noted in his report. County regulations ban such outside fill. Dumping of construction debris is a violation of town code.

Casciaro initially issued a stop-work order based on a lack of documentation of the fill’s origin and the lack of a slope stabilization plan. The town ultimately permitted the fill based on inaccurate documentation later provided by Conigliaro.

In his report, Rubin recommended the immediate removal of the fill.

Addressing the problem

Frank Eighmey, who owns the property at 59 Reynolds Lane, said the dumping continued unabated through July. He claimed he was told the town board didn’t know about the problem until recently, which McKenna vehemently denied. “To say the town board hasn’t discussed this is totally untrue. We have talked about this a number of times in executive session,” McKenna said. “It is I who found the dumping in January.”

Town officials hold little hope Karolys will take corrective action because he hasn’t in the three years of legal battles with the state and Town of Saugerties.

McKenna noted Conigliaro seemed to be cooperative, Conigliaro hopes, McKenna said, that the charges brought against him will help him build a case against Karolys.

Eighmey complained that the situation hadn’t needed to get to this point. Now it is a problem and inconvenience for everyone.

“Our obligation is to protect health and safety of the residents,” councilman Richard Heppner said. “It seems pretty straightforward.”

McKenna repeated that the town was not in a position to do anything until it gets a court ruling. He said the town can sue Conigliaro and Karolys, expend funds if it gets a judgment in its favor, and then pursue reimbursement from Conigliaro and Karolys. 

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But neighbors and some town-board members say that will take too much time. “In the meantime we have a problem that needs to be addressed,” Heppner said.

“Town has really dropped the ball on this,” said Julie Szabo, who owns property on Reynolds Lane. “This has to change now. This can’t wait for another month.”

Homework on Karolys

Despite Karolys’ frequent legal troubles and multiple stories in local news outlets, Conigliaro said he was unaware of the potential pitfalls of the use of his services. Conigliaro said he needed fill for a project on the property and determined Karolys had the proper licensing to provide the material.

“We kind of got taken by surprise on the entire project. We didn’t do our homework with Karolys, obviously,” said  Conigliaro, who has begun legal action against Karolys. “I’m a lighting and sound engineer. I know nothing about dirt.”

Conigliaro has hired an expert, and has made commitments to have the fill removed and to pay for testing of Eighmey’s well. “We could get this water tested right away,” he said. “We would not even think of putting polluted material on our property. This is sacred ground to us.” The property that has been in his family for generations.

“Please know that I do want it removed,” he said. “If I have to do it myself I probably will.”

The resolution ultimately passed the town board by a vote of 3-2. McKenna voted against it because of what he sees as questionable legality. Councilwoman Laura Ricci was opposed because she wants to give Conigliaro the chance to come up with a plan and report back to the town board. She said many steps, such as soil testing, will be unnecessary if the fill is to be removed. 

Ricci said timing was critical. Winter is coming, and frozen soil will make removing the fill more difficult. 

Conigliaro’s engineer, Jim McIver, said the contaminants may not have made it to the water table and might not get that far if the fill was removed.

Neighbors have clamored for soil testing. McIver recommended against such a move. If the wrong area is tested and comes back clean, Karolys could use it as justification not to do anything, he cautioned. “The best thing is to remove the material as soon as possible,” he said. “It would take a long time (for contaminants) to leech through.”

Karolys has been embroiled in legal battles with the state and the Town of Saugerties over disposal of construction and demolition debris on his properties on Route 212, Fel Qui Road and Goat Hill Road.

State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Karolys in June for flagrant violations of solid- waste and water-pollution laws at his three Saugerties dump sites. Karolys faces civil penalties of $7500 to $22,500 per violation and an additional $1500 to $22,500 per day each violation continues. He also could be forced to pay up to $37,500 per day for operating dumps without a state water pollution control permit.

The town board was scheduled to hold a special meeting October 27 via videoconference to hear Conigliaro’s plans and to discuss the next steps.