BY ROBERT KNIGHT
Blauvelt area residents, environmentalists and Orangetown officials were equally shocked Tuesday, June 6 when they learned via the Internet that the town had settled its bitter court battle with the controversial Aluf Plastics Corp., despite the fact that the Town Board had told the Deputy Town Attorney in charge of the case to go to trial.
The town’s lawsuit against Aluf was based on affidavits from town residents and town staff alleging and documenting violations of Orangetown code Chapter 43 (Zoning), Article IV (Performance Standards), sections 4.11 (odor, etc.), 4.12 (performance standards procedure), 4.13 (continued performance), 4.164 (air pollution), 4.182 (method for measuring odors). The thirteen alleged violations occurred eight days in November and December of 2016. They document what many people have observed is an ongoing intermittent problem of odor emissions from the factory.
The Aluf plea of “no contest” and payment of $12,500 to the town, and town’s withdrawal of the violations, is a “Civil Compromise” or settlement in which Aluf does not admit guilt, but neither does it prohibit the town from suing Aluf again over the very same types of violations whenever they occur.
According to Supervisor Andy Stewart, the lawsuit was a necessary part of a larger effort to force Aluf to take its odor issue seriously. Most critical to the success of this campaign is Aluf’s compliance with much more stringent permitting requirements from the NYS DEC. The town and community have lobbied strongly for the DEC to mandate extensive improvements in Aluf’s odor control and ventilation systems and Aluf has submitted engineering plans to implement these improvements. These plans are part of the DEC permit, a draft of which is expected to be made available for public comment starting next week, and for a period of thirty days. After this period of public comment, the DEC will finalize Aluf’s odor plan in the form of a legally binding agreement with deadlines for completion and standards for operation. Despite the relatively minor role the court case has played in the overall drama, the town council was clear in its consternation over the attorney’s decision to settle rather than go to trial.
Leading the charge against the settlement from the Town Board was Councilman Thomas Diviny (R- Blauvelt), who yelled from the podium that he had specifically instructed the deputy town attorney handling the case not to settle with Aluf but to take the case to its ultimate decision by a judge in New City. As a result of directly disobeying an order from the council, Diviny asserted that the deputy counsel, Dennis Michaels, should be immediately fired by the board. None of the other town council members agreed with this proposal, however, each of the town board members did register their confusion and disappointment, and desire for explanation of the attorney’s decision to settle the case, in contradiction to the town board’s directive.
The decision to settle the case instead of proceeding to trial infuriated Blauvelt residents Tuesday when word spread like wildfire via the Internet. It also infuriated the board, which was apparently caught in the awkward position of not knowing the decision had already been made by Michaels, and was posted on the internet by the court, after agreeing to accept the town’s settlement offer.
Diviny, an attorney with offices in Pearl River, shouted that he and other council members had specifically directed Michaels not to settle the case, but to push it forward to trial, in hopes of getting a much more favorable decision. That decision, Diviny asserted, would hopefully have included a finding of wrongdoing on Aluf’s part, a financial finding against the firm for court costs and punishment, and requirements for the firm to cease and desist from production of any future noxious odors. Instead, the councilman complained bitterly, Aluf got away “clean as a whistle,”, and there is no sanction of any kind for past, current and future odor problems except for the paltry sum of $12,500.
This week, Diviny said he was still polling the rest of the Town Board before making any motions to fire Michaels as a deputy town attorney. “I want to make sure I have all five votes before I make a motion like that, so I’m sure he (Michaels) won’t have recourse against the town if the vote is not unanimous,” he said during a break between a workshop meeting and an executive session during Tuesday’s meeting.