Woodstock Supervisor Bill McKenna found himself in the hot seat again last week as neighbors expressed frustration about a lack of action against a Shady homeowner for receiving contaminated fill.
“Our biggest concern is we would like to know why the burden of this has been dumped on the victims instead of the criminals and it just seems like there’s a big injustice being done here to the to the people that haven’t done anything to hurt anybody,” Reynolds Lane resident Frank Eighmey said.
“There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not the town that did that. And the town is trying to rectify that,” McKenna countered at the May 18 Town Board meeting, where the bulk of time was devoted to discussing the case’s progress.
“I believe it’s the town’s responsibility to protect the residents of the town,” Eighmey replied.
“But we have to follow the law, Frank, and we have to go through the process,” McKenna countered.
“It just baffles me how the burden and the expense of this has fallen on the victims, because you probably already know when filing a lawsuit under environmental law, you do not recoup your lawyer’s fees, you lose that money. So the system loses twice,” said Eighmey.
Some expressed frustration about what they see as a lack of information.
“Unless I email you, I hear nothing,” said Reynolds Lane resident Joe Czarnecki.
McKenna said there was little to report until recently when a court date was finally set.
Czarnecki said he still feels left in the dark. “Originally, in one of the meetings, it was like ‘We’re going communicate with you by email, send us all your email so we can keep you updated.’ And we don’t hear anything unless we’re attending the meeting,” he said.
McKenna alerted Ulster Publishing in January 2020 the town had reason to believe legally embattled contractor Joseph Karolys was delivering contaminated fill to the 10 Church Road property. Homeowner Vincent Conigliaro said he ordered the fill for a project and wasn’t aware of Karolys’ history. Karolys faces multiple environmental charges for transporting and storing contaminated fill on his Saugerties properties.
Conigliaro initially committed to removing the fill, but has since ceased any efforts.
Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) member Erin Moran compiled a report on the timeline of the dumping activity. Initially, McKenna said he wanted to wait to hear from Moran until the Town Board had a chance to review documents she sent to them.
However, neighbors and some board members wanted to hear from Moran since she was present.
Moran said the Environmental Commission wasn’t informed about the matter until September 2020, a point McKenna disputed.
“So just to be clear, at the January 21 meeting with a majority of the WEC board members present, including yourself sitting in the front row, I did bring this to the board, to the Woodstock Times and to the Land Conservancy as well,” McKenna said.
“I really don’t want this to turn into a back and forth, but Bill, if you’re going to say that in January you brought it to the WEC’s attention, it was not brought to our attention,” Moran said. “We were told, and anyone can watch the video, that you were handling it. It was not brought to the WEC until September. And there’s documented proof of that.”
In September 2000, the WEC started asking questions and “for every question, we got different answers,” Moran said. That is when the WEC agreed to let Moran take the lead.
“The ball was dropped in a lot of places. And it’s very obvious if you just look at the documents,” Moran said.
Testing adequacy questioned
The Town Board passed a resolution in October 2020 calling for water and soil testing, but it hasn’t been conducted properly, Moran said.
“When the water test was done, it was not tested for lead or asbestos. We were very unhappy when we heard about this on the environmental commission,” she said.
“Construction debris is known… this is not anything new… it’s known to have asbestos in it. That’s why it’s hard to get rid of. So to not test for lead and asbestos was just a waste of everyone’s time.”
She also questioned the soil testing done on the property.
“There were ‘test holes’ dug. (Councilman) Lorin (Rose) was there. (Former Highway Superintendent) Mike Reynolds was there. Some other people were there. The property owner was there,” she said.
“Not anybody who had actual expertise in knowing what to look for and the soil was looked at with the naked eye. You can’t see lead with the naked eye. You can’t see asbestos with the naked eye. So to drill a couple holes, which is what happened, and to say, ‘Well, looks good to me.’” Again, it’s another letdown. The ball was dropped again.”
McKenna disputed Moran’s account, but Moran said the truth lies in the email communications.
Moran called for the town to get help from experts in drafting stronger environmental laws so this doesn’t happen again.
“I think it’s going happen again until we get some really effective environmental laws on the books by experts, not volunteers. I think that’s a really big need,” she said.
“Right now, you can say it’s just affecting the neighbors on Church Road and Reynolds Lane. But the Sawkill is across the road from the Eighmeys. If there is something in that soil, it’s going to get in the Sawkill. It’s going to come down into Woodstock,” she said.
“And it’s going to be all of our problem. And it may not be until 20 years from now, but we all could have done something about it. And that’s all I have to say.”
The town charged Conigliaro with more than 200 counts of illegal dumping. Both Woodstock justices have recused themselves, leaving it to Ulster County Judge Bryan Rounds, who assigned the case to Shandaken Town Court. An initial hearing was set for May 25.