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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 29, 2009
Town orders junkyard cleanup, says water may be affected
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND The town and the state both want Robert Ciembrowniewicz to clean up his massive piles of junk, which could be polluting Guilderland’s drinking water.
He owns Bob’s Towing and Crushing, at 3600 Western Turnpike, and was issued two orders on consent to clean up his property by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation one in June 2008, and another in June 2009.
The town board voted unanimously on Tuesday, Oct. 20, to enforce action on Ciembrowniewicz, requiring him to hire an environmental consultant to do the cleanup, or the town will hire contractors and bill him for the work.
At the board meeting, Ciembrowniewicz said he was in a dire situation. He said he had a $200,000 investment in his property, and was struggling financially. Ciembrowniewicz said he was trying to phase out of crushing vehicles, which contain pollutants, and instead crush metals that have no contaminants, like shopping carts.
“I have the utmost concern for pollution,” Ciembrowniewicz said at the meeting. But, he said, if he were not given enough time to clean up, he would lose his property.
“He is complying with the Department of Environmental Conservation, and apparently that’s not fast enough for the town,” said his lawyer, Stephen Rockmacher. “I hope he is able to do this per the town’s order. He has no other choice.”
The town’s zoning enforcement officer and stormwater management officer, Rodger Stone, said he has been receiving complaints about the property on Western Turnpike since late in the fall of 2007. The complaints, mainly from neighbors, are about a variety of problems, ranging from the thousands of tires all over the property, to the leaks of petroleum products.
Stone said he was aware of the DEC’s order on consent from 2008, but had not been made aware of the order from 2009. Either way, he said, he felt it was important for the town to intercede because some of the problems with Ciembrowniewicz’s property could put town residents in danger.
The pollutants running off of the property into Guilderland’s stormwater system, and eventually into the Watervliet Reservoir, the town’s source of drinking water, are the most pressing concern, Stone said. The pollutants, some a direct result of automobile crushing, include gasoline and anti-freeze; Stone said most of the pollutants are on the surface of the land, but there were also barrels of petroleum products on the property.
When it rains, Stone said, neighbors complain that streams of water tinged with oil run down the driveway at 3600 Western Turnpike, onto their properties, and into the road.
“No efforts were ever made to control it,” said Stone. He said the first letter he issued to Ciembrowniewicz was dated February 2008, and it informed him that there were complaints regarding the conditions and operations of his business, and asked him to call Stone to schedule an investigation.
Stone said he met with Ciembrowniewicz several times in person, and each time the property owner said he would be working to clean up his property. But, according to Stone, Ciembrowniewicz did not make any efforts to remedy the situation. After the initial letter, Stone said he issued violations, tickets, and even a stop-work order, all of which were ignored.
The town’s order dictates that Ciembrowniewicz’s attorney must notify the town of an agreement between the property owner and an environmental consultant by Oct. 27. Also within five business days, Ciembrowniewicz must have had the petroleum products removed from his property. By Nov. 4, the town requested to receive a report, submitted by the environmental consultant, on a detailed plan for cleanup, as well as specific dates for cleanup.
If Ciembrowniewicz does not meet the deadlines set forth by the board, the town can obtain contractors to do the necessary work, and the cost of the work would be added to the tax bill of the property owner.
Town Attorney Richard Sherwood suggested that, if Ciembrowniewicz failed to comply, the zoning board of appeals should revoke his special-use permit.
“We tried to work with him for probably too long. We gave him every benefit of the doubt, but there was no cooperation; there was willful non-compliance,” Stone said.
Rockmacher, said his client was working under the order on consent of the DEC, which he believes supercedes the laws set forth by the town code and the zoning enforcement officer.
According to Rockmacher, Ciembrowniewicz was assessed a civil penalty of $21,000 by the DEC, but $15,000 of it would be suspended if he followed a schedule of compliance. He said the schedule dictated that Ciembrowniewicz remove 4,000 tires a week from his property, and, within 60 days of the effective date of the order, he had to relocate fluid removal activities to ensure fluids were not being released into the environment. Ciembrowniewicz was also ordered to submit a stormwater pollution prevention plan within 60 days of the date of the order.
Rockmacher said Ciembrowniewicz had installed a concrete pad and placed all petroleum materials on it so that, if anything leaked or spilled, it would stay on the pad, and not soak into the ground. However, Stone said, the concrete pad had not been put in the proper place.
The third deadline set forth by the DEC has not been met by Ciembrowniewicz, Rockmacher said, because he has not been able to hire the right consultant to draft the stormwater pollution prevention plan. The DEC is aware of the situation, but there have been no discussions on expansion, Rockmacher said.
Stone told The Enterprise this week that he had visited Ciembrowniewicz on his property on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, and observed that the property owner was making efforts to comply with the town’s order. He said Ciembrowniewicz was “dyking and damming” to control fluid run-off, and installing a stabilized construction entrance, to prevent mud and silt from being tracked onto the highway by trucks.
“This is probably one of the few cases I have dealt with that has gone this far. The vast majority of people we work with are very cooperative and comply usually within the first letter or two with whatever the situation is,” said Stone. “Unfortunately there are those few that don’t want to comply and this is what happens it is no fun for anybody. We have to do what we have to do to make sure the residents safety is protected.”