Neighbors and officials are growing impatient with the town’s lack of action addressing the dumping of construction debris on a town of Woodstock property.
“This has been going on for at least 18 months that we know about,” said Woodstock Environmental Commission member Erin Moran, referring to the 10 Church Lane property.
Moran reminded the Town Board it passed a resolution in October 2020 requiring Vincent Conigliaro to remove the debris from his property in the Woodstock hamlet of Shady. She questioned the lack of action since then, noting charges weren’t filed until February 2021.
Building Inspector Ellen Casciaro made several visits in January 2020, but each time, she could see no evidence of concrete or construction debris at the surface.
Activity then quieted down for a while until mid-April 2020 when more truckloads of fill were delivered, according to Supervisor Bill McKenna.
It seemed Conigliaro had honored an order by the Building Department to build a retaining structure to keep the fill from moving. Then, heavy rains last June sent much of it sliding into a neighbor’s property and exposed the debris.
“Now it was apparent there was illegal dumping,” McKenna said.
By January 2021, officials felt confident no more dumping had taken place and shifted focus toward cleanup.
Supervisor Bill McKenna once again countered, as he has in the past, that the town cannot legally spend money on private property without a legal judgment against the owner.
Until then, McKenna said he is urging Conigliaro to do the right thing because he will ultimately pay one way or another. Conigliaro has publicly promised to clean up the fill, but neighbors say he is now refusing to take any action.
If the town does the cleanup, it has to pay contractors at prevailing wages “and it will cost twice as much,” McKenna said.
With a court judgement, the town can pay contractors for the cleanup, then add the cost to Conigliaro’s taxes. If he doesn’t pay, Ulster County will make the town whole, then likely attach a lien and seize the property to recover the funds, according to McKenna.
McKenna said he is as frustrated as the neighbors about the pace, but claims court delays have tied the town’s hands.
The town tasked prosecutor John McGovern with gathering evidence for criminal charges against Conigliaro. Building Inspector Ellen Casciaro then signed off on 200 counts of illegal dumping against Conigliaro and his wife, Gina in February.
COVID-related court shutdowns delayed matters again, then both town justices recused themselves, tossing the matter to Ulster County Judge Bryan Rounds, who assigned the matter to the Shandaken Town Court. A hearing is scheduled there for May 25.
McKenna blamed the recusals on Moran’s relationship with Judge Jason Lesko, saying they wouldn’t have been necessary if Moran played a less active role in the matter.
Moran countered it was McKenna’s involvement that caused the recusals.
“The reason the judges had to recuse was you gave a deposition and you sign their paychecks,” she said.
Supervisor Bill McKenna alerted Hudson Valley One to the dumping in January 2020 in hopes of drawing attention against Joseph Karolys, the legally embattled contractor who delivered fill containing construction debris to the property. Neighbors have said truckloads had been dumped for months before then.
Conigliaro said he ordered fill from Karolys for a project and was unaware of his background.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation investigated and determined no state laws were violated. However, dumping construction debris violates the town’s solid waste law. The debris likely came from out of the area, which would be against county regulations.
Karolys faces multiple environmental violations for transporting and storing contaminated fill on his Saugerties properties.
Moran urged the town to take action based on existing law.
“Please do it. Don’t wait for the court case,” she said. “All that will do is give you a piece of paper that says you were right.”
Neighbor Julie Szabo, like others, fears for the safety of her drinking water and is growing impatient.
“Let’s bring in the bulldozers tomorrow,” she said.
McKenna said it’s in his interest to see the property get cleaned up.
“I live there. It’s my neighborhood too,” he said.
“It could get into my drinking water. I have more to lose than anybody else on the Town Board.”