Frustrated Council seeks criminal prosecution
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
A frustrated Orangetown Town Board Tuesday voted to seek injunctive relief in the courts to force Aluf Plastics Corp. to comply with town codes for odor and performance standards or risky hefty fines and possible shut-down. The company is also under the gun from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation which is forcing Aluf to fix its odor and emissions control systems.
Aluf, which bought the former Glenshaw Glass manufacturing plant between Route 303 and Western Highway decades ago, melts tons of solid plastic daily into a liquid that it then re-manufactures into new plastic products such as plastic bags.
In the process they also allegedly give off noxious odors that blanket the Orangeburg neighborhood around the plant, generating hundreds of complaints from angry area residents.
Those residents have been complaining to Town Hall for months now, and have garnered the support of an equally frustrated five-man council.
Since the county eliminated its air and odor unit at the Department of Health, the town and the state are the only authorities involved in holding Aluf accountable. The county gave up that role in 2014, eliminating the position of public health technician, an engineer who was certified to identify such discharges, and to order compliance or face stiff fines and possible shutdown in ultimate cases.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, for its part, has been investigating odor complaints and issuing violations to Aluf, which is required to submit a plan for fixing its system by January 21, 2017. The NYS DEC will then review the plan and create a binding agreement with Aluf, known as an Order of Consent, to make certain repairs within a certain timeframe. The Town has actively intervened and commented on the scope of this agreement, arguing for the most investment possible in odor control technology.
That promise is insufficient for the Town Board and area residents, however, who continue to lobby for more immediate action.
To short circuit the lengthy delay resulting from Aluf’s denial or responsibility, the county’s reduced role and the state’s lengthy review process, Orangetown has voted to take Aluf to court, as well as fund its own air quality monitoring around the site, and fund an extra town engineer position to be focused on air quality and pollution issues. His first assignment, when he starts work in January, will be to sniff around Aluf and support efforts to force Aluf to become a better neighbor.
Tuesday several of Aluf’s neighbors repeated their complaints to the council, and demanded to know when some level of government was going to get involved to assist them.
Liz Dudley of Orangeburg refuted Aluf’s assertion last month that odor complaints called in by neighbors were often on days the plant was closed, and it was therefore impossible to generate the alleged odors. Dudley said she got a list of 325 complaints called in and day and time stamped, and got another list of days of operation of the plant. The plant was closed four of those days, she said, but was open and operating the other 321. The “matches” were 99 percent, she asserted, with non-matches less than one percent, and on days when the nearby Rockland County Sewer Plant was open, thus leading to possible confusion by area residents.
Fellow resident Allyson Sullivan of Blauvelt called the Aluf odors “repugnant” that morning from 9-10 a.m. She then submitted to the board a list of previous certified violations of law by Aluf, as she demanded the town do something quickly to stop the atmospheric pollution by the plastics firm.
Heather Hurley of Pearl River continued the attack on Aluf, followed by fellow Pearl River resident Michael Mandel, who charged that the state DEC has “dragged their feet” on investigating and prosecuting Aluf for years. He went on to congratulate Councilman Thomas Diviny for finally forcing the town to take the lead by pressing for criminal prosecution of Aluf in court.
Town Board members continued to express frustration at even the short delay until their new environmental engineer comes on board Tuesday evening, with Diviny threatening that if something doesn’t happen quickly, he would introduce a resolution at an upcoming council meeting to have Orangetown seek injunctive relief against Aluf in the courts, ordering the firm to either comply with odor regulations or cease operations.
Diviny, an attorney with offices in Pearl River, said he was tired of delays and the length of the process to get Rockland County and/or New York State to assist the town in prosecuting Aluf. It’s time Orangetown took the reigns of enforcement itself, Diviny said, adding that it was the least the town could do in the face of mounting complaints by area residents, the potential health hazards posed if found to be true, and the continued denial of impermissible odor production by Aluf officials every time they are queried.
Three other members of the council present at Tuesday’s meeting agreed with Diviny in spirit and intent, and said they would support any resolution he might offer.
Exuding frustration and buoyed by audience and board support, Diviny made his move on the spot, moving to “direct the town attorney to file action in Supreme Court Rockland County, against Aluf Plastics seeking injunctive relief and any other relief deemed necessary by the Town Board with regard to enforcement action and numerous violations of town codes and Aluf’s continuous failure to abide by town codes that affect the health and safety of the residents of the town.”
After the meeting Diviny explained that injunctive court action may be the only way Orangetown can force Aluf to comply, and may also be the only way to get the DEC involved sooner, rather than later, in the year-old battle.
Following an eruption of applause from the obviously partisan audience (no one from Aluf appeared to be present), the board voted unanimously, 4-0, to approve the resolution and instruct Town Attorney John Edwards to set the motion into action as soon as possible. Councilman Paul Valentine was absent, and thus did not vote.
Edwards indicated during and after the meeting that he would start preparing court papers immediately to begin the prosecution of Aluf. Like Diviny, he too agreed that court action by Orangetown via injunctive relief may be the only way to force the firm into compliance, and also get the state DEC involved quicker.
Diviny, Edwards and other town officials indicated excitement over the prosecution of Aluf, the possibility of finally drawing the DEC into the battle, and the impending employment of the town’s own environmental engineer next month. The combined actions should bring the complaints to a swift and sure conclusion on behalf of beleaguered residents, the officials said, adding it was “about time.”
In other action at Tuesday evenings council meeting the board voted unanimously to:
- Approve a contract with the New York Sharks Aquatics Club of Clarkstown through which the club will pay Orangetown $17,270.49 for use of the swimming pool at the South Orangetown Middle School in Blauvelt during 2017. Orangetown has a separate agreement with the school district to lease the pool when it is not being used for school athletics. Edwards said the Sharks fee would end up lowering the amount Orangetown has to pay for its use of the pool.
- Approve caretaker agreements with two town employees to continue residing with their families in town-owned homes located within town parks. Thomas Iacobellis and his family will remain at the home at Nike Park on top of Clausland Mountain, at a rental of $1,119; while Anthony Limandri and his family will remain at the stucco home at the Henry V. Borst Park on North Main Street in Pearl River, at a monthly rent of $1,176. Each family gets a below-market rent in return for also acting as 24-hour caretakers of the two public parks, and providing routine maintenance and repairs as needed. A third house used to be similarly rented at the entrance to the Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River. That large 18thcentury frame structure was deemed to be to deteriorated for continued residential use however, and has sat vacant for several years. $40,000 has been included in Orangetown’s 2017 budget to demolish the structure, known as the Perry House.
- Approve solicitation of bids from private contractors to convert all streetlights in Orangetown from incandescence to new LED lighting, and to provide yearlong maintenance of them, in conjunction with the town’s purchase of all poles and lighting fixtures from Orange and Rockland Utilities next year. The conversion cost will be absorbed into the lower rate the town will pay for electricity to O & R, netting a substantial savings to the town.
- Submit a grant proposal for $99,500 to the Hudson river Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, to pay the Chazen Companies and Simon Gruber to “assess flooding vulnerabilities in the Sparkill Creek Watershed and propose flood mitigation via both engineered (bridges and culverts) and natural (wetland restoration) solutions, as no cost to the town other than grant administration.” The goal of the project will be “to identify viable flood mitigation projects for which to seek funding in future years.”
- Authorize the Orangetown Housing Authority to refinance the original $8.7 million in bonds the Authority issued in 1992 to construct the Cortwood Village senior citizens housing project in Orangeburg. Eight of the units were destroyed by fire last year, and the town has decided not to rebuild them. The Housing Authority will issue the new bonds, backed by the bonding authority of the town, and will use about $3 million of the money to improve the remainder of Cortwood Village. A combination of a smaller bond and lower 2017 interest rates is expected to save Orangetown about $1.3 million according to town Finance Director Jeff Bencik.
- Lease space on a town-owned cell tower to Ramland Holdings, LLC and 1547 Critical Systems realty, for installation by those firms of a half-cabinet for electrical equipment and a backup generator at the base of the tower. The firms will pay the town $550 per month in rent for the next 36 months, and an additional $550 up front for the installation of their equipment.
- Lease use of circuit on the dark fiber network system from Fiber Technologies Network LLC, for 44 months at a cost of $675 per month.
- Solicit bids from the public from anyone interested in purchasing used technology equipment from the town’s automated technology system, consisting mainly of outdated telephones.
- Accept with regret the retirements of three long-time town employees, including Michael Catania and Michael Aamodt from the Highway Department and Paul Witte from code enforcement. The retirements are effective Jan. 21 and 27.
- Refund an $1,800 film permit fee to OP Services, LLC which was granted the permit to film the television series “Two Degrees” for the HBO channel, at the Lamont-Doherty Geophysical Laboratory in Palisades. When the permit was issued it was assumed by all parties that part of it would be on town lands (streets) thus requiring police, highway and other assistance to block or close roads and other requirements. It turned out the firm shot entirely on Lamont property, however requiring no town assistance, and thus leading to the refund of its filming fee.
- Lease/purchase taser guns for the police department for five years, at a cost of $8,195 the first year and $7,440 in years two through five, for a total cost of $38,298. The stun guns are being bought from Taser International, the sole US manufacturer.
- Grant the Pearl River Chamber of Commerce $15,000 from the Pearl River Parking Meter Fund to help pay for the installation of holiday lights in downtown Pearl River.
- Continue hiring the lobbying firm of Jackson Lewis to represent Orangetown at the state capitol in Albany, particularly with regard to obtaining grants from state agencies. The firm was successful on obtaining several grants this year, officials said, and was well worth the $4,000 per month fee they charge.
- Authorize Building Inspector John Giardiello to attend the five-day advanced floodplain management training course at the National Emergency Training Center Jan. 30 through Feb. 3, at a cost of $675.
- Settle a lawsuit by Orangetown against Cablevision of Rockland/Ramapo LLC, in which the firm agrees to pay the town the franchise fees the town was seeking.
Following the regular meeting, the Town Board went into executive session to discuss the possible sale of a parcel of town-owned land to a private buyer.
The board also announced it would meet again in executive session the following day, Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 12 noon to discuss collective bargaining with its two major unions, the CSEA and the PBA.