The court case of illegal dumping in Shady is settled, but the property owner and Saugerties construction debris hauler Joseph Karolys still face consequences and the drama is far from over for Frank and Pam Eighmey, residents at 59 Reynolds Lane.
Karolys and Gina Conigliaro, wife of 10 Church Road owner Vincent Conigliaro, each pled guilty January 27 in Shandaken Town Court to one count of illegal dumping and agreed to pay a $1500 fine. Vincent Conigliaro faced similar charges but they were dropped in exchange for his cooperation in the case, which was moved from Woodstock’s town court to Shandaken.
The $1500 fines are a far cry from the nearly $300,000 for each defendant, had they been found guilty of the 200 counts as originally charged. But, it may open the door for Woodstock to pursue cleanup costs. “We are looking into our legal options,” is all Supervisor Bill McKenna would say when asked about the matter on January 28.
Both Woodstock judges cited conflicts of interest, so it was referred to Ulster County Judge Bryan Rounds, who reassigned the case to Shandaken.
The Eighmeys and nearby residents brought the matter to the town’s attention in late 2019, when numerous truckloads of fill were being delivered to the Church Road property, uphill from their Reynolds Lane home.
Vincent Conigliaro said the whole mess is the result of collusion between his soon-to-be ex-wife Gina and Karolys to get rid of contaminated fill.
Meanwhile the Church Road property, which belonged to his late father, Salvatore, is in limbo. Vincent is managing the estate and taking care of the property that was originally purchased some 40 years ago as a summer home for his grandmother. “We want to do things with the property. We can’t do anything if the place is going to be torn up to get rid of this stuff,” Vincent said, adding he wants to make sure the situation at the Eighmeys is resolved. “I’ve got a guy that’s had crap in his yard for two years, and that’s my main concern now,” he said.
Vincent Conigliaro said the dumping and excavating went on largely when he was traveling for his business, Salvin Design, a Kingston-based lighting and effects company. He is now retired and his sister, also named Gina, is the CEO.
Vincent is not sure what the future holds, but he believes the town will go after his wife, Gina, and Karolys to recoup and cleanup costs. “I am going to make it my life’s work to make sure people know about this guy (Karolys). Maybe I’ll make a website or something,” he said. “If I had known about all this I wouldn’t have hired him.”
The Eighmeys have now endured the effects of the dumping and are constantly reminded of it as they are greeted with a mound of debris every time they come home. They have a lawyer at the ready but are waiting to see if the town comes through with action.
“We are putting our trust in Supervisor (Bill) McKenna to make this right,” said Frank Eighmey, who was at court with his wife, Pam. Throughout this process, McKenna has urged patience and repeatedly said it will take time.
McKenna notified Ulster Publishing in January 2020 after he said he became aware Karolys was the one dumping the fill, which was determined to be construction debris, a violation of the town solid waste law. At the time, McKenna said he wanted to raise awareness given Karolys’ reputation.
Karolys still faces multiple state environmental charges for his dumping operation at 1446 Route 212 in Saugerties, where he processes the material before disposing of it on properties on Goat Hill and Fell Qui roads. State Department of Environmental Conservation police raided the three Saugerties sites in May 2019 and issued a cease-and-desist order.
Police stopped trucks from entering the Route 212 location on December 12, 2019 and the town enforced stop-work orders after Karolys continued his operations.
Despite state and town enforcement action, his operations continue and Karolys has vowed in court to keep his demolition debris dumps open.
Frank Eighmey said he has had to retain an attorney for the Church Road case and hopes Woodstock steps in so he doesn’t have to go further into debt to pay legal fees. The Eighmeys have had to buy bottled water because a hydrologist advised them not to drink water from the well, which sits at the bottom of the now debris-laden hill. That hydrologist, Paul Rubin of the Tivoli-based firm Hydroquest, was retained by the Eighmeys and neighbors to study the fill.
Rubin found fly ash and construction debris in the fill, along with large and small chunks of concrete, brick, plastic, burned logs, ceramic pipe and asphalt. Rock within the fill is made up of mica schist with almandine garnets and gneiss, which are not found in Ulster County. Material in the fill is consistent with that found in Manhattan and the Bronx, Rubin concluded in an August 2020 report.
Importing fill materials from outside the county is against Ulster County law.
A torrent of thick mud and debris
Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer Ellen Casciaro inspected the fill at Church Road and Reynolds Lane on several occasions but could not determine its contents because it had been covered.
Casciaro ordered Conigliaro to build a retaining wall to keep the fill from moving, but whatever was built wasn’t sufficient. Heavy rains in Summer 2020 sent the fill cascading down the hill into the Eighmey’s property and a torrent of thick, muddy water rushed across their walkway.
In an August 4, 2020 video taken by the Eighmeys, Casciaro can be heard commenting about the damage. “This mud here is over a foot deep,” she said. Casciaro also commented that the mud is “like quicksand” and noted a silt fence was compromised in several places.
Growing more frustrated over what they saw as a lack of action, neighbors got the Woodstock Environmental Commission (WEC) involved through the help of then-Councilman Lorin Rose.
The WEC drafted a resolution in October 2020 compelling the town to hire “an independent, qualified testing agency, not being a company owned or affiliated with any Town employee” to test the Eighmeys’ water at regular intervals. The Town Board passed the resolution, though McKenna voted against it and explained the town cannot spend taxpayer money on private property without a court ruling against the owner.
Neighbors grow impatient over lack of progress
At that time, McKenna said Conigliaro was being cooperative and expressed hope charges against him would further motivate him to take cleanup action. But several months passed and the Eighmeys and others grew increasingly frustrated and angry at the lack of any action.
Conigliaro paid for one round of well testing, which found no major contamination, but high levels of heavy metal, which is consistent with a well drilled into bedrock. The point of repeated testing was to determine if any contaminants have entered the drinking water through time, but no further testing has been conducted either by the town or Conigliaro.
A WEC report concluded the water wasn’t tested for lead or asbestos, which are typically present in construction debris. “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,” WEC member Erin Moran said in May.
Finally, in February 2021, the town charged the Conigliaros and Karolys with more than 200 counts of illegal dumping. If convicted of each count, the fines could have added up to nearly $300,000 and it could have come with an order to pay cleanup costs.
“If he drags his feet and doesn’t get it cleaned up, I’m committed, and I think the rest of the Town Board is committed to seeking fines as heavily as possible,” McKenna said at the time.
The judges’ recusals and COVID-related court shutdowns further dragged the case on for several months, until the guilty pleas were entered January 27.
Town may bill Conigliaro for cleanup costs
Though McKenna has not divulged the next step, he has stated publicly that with a court judgment, the town can hire a company qualified in waste cleanup to remove the debris and haul it to a facility set up to dispose of it properly.
The town can add the cost to Conigiaro’s taxes and if he doesn’t pay, Ulster County will make the town whole and seize the property to recover the funds.
Karolys did not return messages in time for publication.