Three groups are seeking to put an end to what they say is a growing dumping operation in Saugerties, New York. They updated community residents Tuesday night, urging them to put pressure on lawmakers and the state Department of Environmental Conversation to take action.
Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Woodstock Land Conservancy and Dump Here Never hosted the information session at Saugerties High School. They say Joseph Karolys’ unpermitted dumping operation that includes a central transfer facility has left tens of thousands of cubic yards of construction and demolition debris in the woods of Saugerties, in one case, a 30-foot-high pile, and continues unabated. Mike Ferraro lives across the street from what is called the Route 212 site.
“I just want it to go away. I want it to be cleaned up,” Ferraro says. “My grandchildren live here. I’ve lived here my whole life. We lived, I’ve lived on that property since 1976, and it’s, I don’t want it there.”
He took notice in 2016 and says there has been a large increase in truck traffic.
“Nobody really knew what the magnitude of it was because we’re out in the rural area. We’re not in the village,” says Ferraro. “So I’ve taken a lot of photographs. I documented a lot — how many trucks come in every day. And, not so much the dumping, it’s nobody knows whether it’s contaminated. There’s no proof that it isn’t contaminated but there’s also no proof it is.”
Town Supervisor Fred Costello delivered an update, saying the town awaits an Ulster County state Supreme Court decision on a stop-work order the town had issued in late 2018, which the Zoning Board of Appeals upheld in mid-April. However a state Supreme Court judge issued a stay while considering arguments from both sides. Here’s Costello.
“We have made a concerted effort to make sure that our ability to uphold the town laws is upheld by the ZBA and now, hopefully, by the Ulster County Supreme Court,” says Costello. “And if we get that opportunity, we can stop this activity and move on to the next phase which will be try to understand the impact of what has happened to the neighborhoods that have been impacted, what are the risks to their groundwater and seek mitigation.”
Costello says it’s the first time he’s seen this type and level of activity in Saugerties.
“The focus the last few weeks has been at the Goat Hill site and the 212 site. So the 212 site is somewhat central to it. That’s where the material is brought in from outside of Ulster County and dropped off, and then it is re-trucked from that location to the Goat Hill site and the Fel Qui site,” Costello says. “Under their registration, it declares that they are allowed to accept debris from Ulster and Dutchess. There’s been acknowledgement that this material comes far from outside Ulster and Dutchess, primarily, New York City.”
The attorney for Karolys did not respond to a request for comment in time for this broadcast. Kevin Smith is Woodstock Land Conservancy board chairman. He says the conservancy has two nature preserves on the border with Saugerties, and others nearby.
“Yeah, our Sloan Gorge Preserve, 88-acre preserve, is literally right at the top of Goat Hill Road,” says Smith. “It sits on the boundary with, between Woodstock and Saugerties.”
“We’re supporting four-square the efforts of the Town of Saugerties, everything that they are doing and working with our partners at Mountainkeeper to help make sure that state officials, whether it’s DEC or DOH [Department of Health], whoever it is, are really tending to this issue and really giving it the significance that it deserves,” Smith says.
Emily Svenson is an environmental attorney representing Catskill Mountainkeeper, which is circulating a “Don’t Dump on Saugerties” petition. She is working alongside the town after learning of the situation earlier this year.
“Under state law, you can’t landfill waste without a permit unless you meet certain exceptions that don’t apply here,” says Svenson. “So what we want DEC to do is to investigate these sites, determine that this is landfilling of waste without a permit, and issue the appropriate violation notices and then enforce them.”
Svenson wrote a May 6 letter to DEC on behalf of Catskill Mountainkeeper and Saugerties residents regarding the Karolys properties in the town. DEC Regional Director Kelly Turturro responded in a May 14 letter, saying that the property owner refused to grant DEC access to the properties to evaluate compliance, and that DEC is now seeking a warrant in court to inspect the site. DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald.
“DEC is actively investigating Mr. Karolys’ compliance with state solid waste regulations, both at his registered facility on State Route 212, as well as his properties on Goat Hill Road and Fel Qui Road,” says Ringewald. “If violations are found, DEC will take appropriate enforcement action, including potential penalties, to protect public health and the environment and to hold the responsible party accountable.”
Svenson calls the DEC letter a step in the right direction.
“We also believe that this is a bigger problem than Saugerties. The state needs to figure out how to enforce against this activity, which is happening other places as well," Svenson says. "And even if the town is successful in shutting this down, other towns might not have those resources, and this activity might go elsewhere. So we are, we’re pressing DEC to use the laws at its disposable to take action and stop this type of dumping in the region.”
Jim Starlin lives across the street from another of the sites, Fel Qui.
“I believe the only way to possibly get this gentleman’s attention is to make it cost him,” Starlin says. “And if the DEC is not moving on this very quickly, perhaps a civil suit by a homeowners organization or individual homeowner might be able to expedite things and get this situation remedied.”
He wants the state to test his water. Starlin says he switched to bottled water after learning about the dumping about a month ago.