Alex Bolotow has been removed as chair of the Woodstock Environmental Commission. Was it in retribution for her criticism of the town’s handling of contaminated fill on Church Road in Shady?
“My replacement as WEC chair is clearly a retaliatory act by supervisor Bill McKenna and councilperson Laura Ricci for the WEC’s call to remove all the hazardous material from the Church Road dump,” wrote Bolotow in an email to her fellow WEC members.
McKenna said it was time for a change in leadership.
“The chair serves at the pleasure of the town board,” McKenna said. Bolotow’s removal as chair was not punishment, he said. It had nothing to do with the WEC’s recent letter about the dumping in Shady.
“The timing stinks. I won’t deny that,” McKenna said.
McKenna said Bolotow’s “emotional conduct” was an issue. No formal complaints were made against Bolotow,
WEC member Christopher Compton is now chair. Bolotow still has a seat on the commission.
“Despite the fact that no official complaint has ever been filed against me, supervisor McKenna and councilperson Ricci are telling people my replacement is due to my emotional conduct as chair. It is clearly retaliation for the WEC’s pressing on issues that the supervisor does not agree with — particularly the illegal dumping at 10 Church Road. It is also a misogynistic attack on me and my leadership, as well as against the three other women who have served the WEC for far longer than Mr. Compton, and who have put in much more work, and who were overlooked,” Bolotow’s email said.
Bolotow said she was called into a March 28 meeting with McKenna, deputy clerk Lynn Sehwerert, bookkeeper Pam Boyle and councilmember Ricci.
Bolotow said McKenna accused her of sexual harassment, referring to one of several emails she had sent about the Church Road dumping in which she said, “I expected I would get boobs in eighth grade, but that didn’t happen.”
Bolotow said she was discussing continued inaction on the cleanup, and the remark was in reference to waiting for things to happen. McKenna continually pressed Bolotow about her involvement in the cleanup and told her the WEC should let it be, she said.
“I told him there was a resolution requiring action. He said ‘I could pass a resolution saying I could shoot you. It doesn’t mean I’d be allowed to do it,’” Bolotow said.
The replacement chair
Bolotow said she was told an executive session at the next town board meeting would decide her fate, and that she could resign to save embarrassment.
McKenna has repeatedly noted the WEC resolution approved by the town board was non-binding because the WEC was an advisory board.
“I strongly urge the members of the town board to reject a replacement chair and instead vote to reappoint me as chair and to allow me to continue the work we are doing to protect Woodstock’s air, water, land, and all the people and animals who live here,” Bolotow said. “We are a very successful group, and this retaliatory action by supervisor McKenna and councilperson Ricci is an attempt to dismantle our environmental successes at the WEC.”
McKenna said Compton had a lot of energy and passion to bring to the group.
The Church Road cleanup
Other members of the town board are continuing criticism of the Shady dumping and echoing the WEC’s call for all fill to be removed from 10 Church Road.
Residents of Reynolds Lane have been dealing with the aftermath of 200 or more truckloads of contaminated fill delivered by contractor Joseph Karolys. McKenna said 10 Church Road owner Vincent Conigliaro had applied for a permit under the new town fill law inspired by this situation.
Councilmember Bennet Ratcliff, who is opposing McKenna in the June Democratic primary for town supervisor, has raised issues with the plan. “I think that this is sitting over the unconsolidated aquifer, and it could threaten the municipal water supply,” Ratcliff said at the April 11 town board meeting.
McKenna said the DEC has agreed with him that the situation does not directly affect the water supply.
“The DEC did not do a thing other than a site visit,” Ratcliff said.
Councilmember Maria-Elena Conte agreed the cleanup plan wasn’t enough. “Sifting is not going to cut it, I don’t think,” she said.
Neighbors raised alarm over the contaminated fill in late 2019, and the problems went from bad to worse in 2020, when summer rains caused the fill to slide into the back yard of Frank and Pam Eighmey at 59 Reynolds Lane — near their well. Consultants have told them not to drink their water.
McKenna said at the time that the town government could not go onto private property without a court judgment. That day finally came in February 2022 when Vincent’s wife, Gina Conigliaro, and Karolys pleaded guilty to illegal dumping. They had faced more than 200 counts, but the prosecutor agreed to a single count for each defendant. Vincent Conigliaro’s charges were dropped in exchange for his cooperation.
McKenna said that was all that is needed is to allow the town to hire a contractor to clean up the property. The latest plan is to allow Conigliaro to hire his own contractor to do the work, with town oversight. The town taking over the cleanup is now “plan B.” If Conigliaro’s cleanup is not satisfactory, the town can take control and attach a lien to his taxes to recoup the costs.