TRIBES HILL — Residents say the tranquility and quiet nature of the area attracted them to their neighborhood. That has been disrupted by the dumping of construction debris and general fill materials into a ravine at the corner of Mohawk Drive and Main Street.
“We haven’t had any issues until this,” said Gene Dacre who lives behind the site.
“It was so quiet here,” agreed Freya Dacre.
The husband and wife along with their neighbors said they had no warning when construction vehicles arrived last summer and began dumping materials into the ravine on the street corner that steeply dropped off from the edge of the road.
“Everybody on our block has been bothered,” said Tara Sheehan who lives across the street from the property.
Concrete bridge beams, frames, blocks and slabs dumped loudly over the edge shook the surrounding homes in the residential neighborhood. The arrival of dirt and stone debris sent up clouds of dust forcing neighbors to close their windows.
“The air quality was horrible,” Sheehan said.
The activity stopped last summer as abruptly as it began only to resume again this year with the return of warm weather. The fill has created a small lot at the street corner.
Concerned residents approached the Mohawk Town Board in August seeking answers only to learn the activity is allowed without requiring any local approvals or permits.
“I don’t understand why that is when we all need to get permits to do any little thing with our homes,” Sheehan said. “Aren’t there zoning laws saying you can’t be coming in with huge tractors and trucks and dumping these things here?”
Town Supervisor Ed Bishop said the situation is governed and allowed under the regulations of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. There are no local laws covering the ongoing activities, not even a noise ordinance.
State environmental law allows for the disposal of up to 5,000 cubic yards of recognizable and uncontaminated concrete, asphalt pavement, brick, glass, rock and general fill from construction and demolition activities.
The rules stipulate that such activities are exempted from normal waste management regulations as long as no fee or other form of payment is obtained for the acceptance of the materials which must be received during daylight hours and must not contain any residue from construction and demolition handling and recovery facilities. The waste must not be placed in surface water or ground water.
Following complaints from residents, Code Enforcement Officer Stan Waddle and a DEC inspector visited the dumping site at the corner of Mohawk Drive and Main Street in August. It was determined during the visit that approximately 3,800 cubic yards of general fill composed of concrete and asphalt had been disposed of at the site in compliance with the law.
Waddle additionally confirmed much of the material came from the Route 5 bridge reconstruction project in Fort Johnson with the on-site project manager from Tioga Construction.
Tioga had reportedly been advised already by the DEC that the activity was allowed after receiving permission from property owner Thomas Georgia to dispose of the construction debris at the site.
The only issue the inspection uncovered was the presence of a “small” amount of grass clippings and wood debris mixed in with the materials. Georgia was instructed to remove those materials and complied, according to Waddle.
“You can either have hard fill or soft fill, you can’t have the mix,” Waddle explained.
Georgia, who lives in Tribes Hill about a block away from the site, said he bought the property as an investment when it became available without any specific plans for it.
According to Georgia, the ongoing activities came about after he was approached by Montgomery County officials seeking a disposal site for general fill materials for ongoing projects. County officials could not immediately be reached for confirmation.
Georgia said the site has attracted some illegal dumping, to which he attributed the presence of wood and grass clippings. He has since installed cameras to monitor the site and roped off the property to limit access to anyone without permission.
Activity at the property stopped for a few weeks following the complaints in August before resuming on Wednesday when dirt and what appeared to be hot asphalt was dumped at the corner.
Neighbors questioned the safety of the hot mixture and the possible heavy rain later in the day would lead to runoff from the substance. Waddle indicated that DEC regulations apparently do not distinguish between hot asphalt and hardened pavement.
Waddle, who works part-time, has continued to monitor the site when he is in the area or receives a complaint from residents and shares information with the DEC.
However, neighbors say the limited site supervision means the 5,000 cubic yards of general fill allowed could easily be exceeded and prohibited materials covered up without anyone’s knowledge.
“I don’t know who is measuring that, it’s not like they’re scaling people in and out of there,” Gene said.
Although the site could accept over 1,000 additional cubic yards of fill, Georgia said he has no plans to do so at this point. He said only topsoil will be brought in moving forward to level out the site before it is seeded with grass in the spring.
Georgia said filling the site will help prevent erosion along the roadway and his only future plans for the property are to maintain it.
“The only thing I will do is put grass seed down and keep it mowed. It looks much nicer now than it did a year ago,” Georgia said.
Beyond the disruption to the neighborhood caused by the dumping, Freya and Gene are concerned about whether the materials will impact a small stream running through the area of the dump site onto their property or their water supply.
“Our well is right under there,” Freya said.
“The noise is one thing, but then with a natural stream and people’s drinking water involved, there is a little more to it,” Gene said. “I don’t want to drink tar and oil.”
Waddle said he and the DEC inspector did not observe any water bodies running through the dump site during their joint visit in August. However, when he returned to the site this week on his own he saw the stream and captured video of it that he will share with the DEC.
The tributary to the Mohawk River is listed on the DEC’s Environmental Resource Mapper as a class C stream. A disturbance of water permit through the DEC is typically required for most activities impacting such classified water bodies.
The Dacres plan to test their water to ensure it’s safe next week due to their concerns.
Georgia expressed surprise when he learned about the concerns, saying none of his neighbors had raised the issues with him.
“I have never been contacted personally by any neighbors, I wish they would have called me,” he said.
Neighbors said the same regarding the lack of notice they received before activity at the property began.
“To not even notify your neighbors that you’re going to be dumping is not very considerate,” Sheehan said.
Whether the ongoing dumping is allowed currently, neighboring property owners said the town should put regulations in place to prevent similar situations from occurring without local authorizations and oversight.
“We can’t let this go,” Sheehan said. “We just want this to stop.”