Guest Columns

There Needs to Be Putnam Valley Fire Dept. Accountability on Illegal Dumping Mess

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By Patty Villanova
Anyone who’s watched “The Sopranos” or old movies like “The Godfather” or “Good Fellas” knows about “omerta,” or the code of silence. That’s where the bad guys all agree not to say anything to the cops or FBI if they get caught.

Well Putnam Valley is not New Jersey or Sicily, but it sure seems like some of the people who run this place have their own code of omerta when it comes to the Putnam Valley Fire Department. Case in point: the two lawsuits that have been filed by the department (in state and federal courts) regarding the illegal dumping of toxic fill on their property where the new firehouse is now being built.

Prior to these lawsuits being filed, the dumping was an open secret in town, and based on records that I had acquired through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and now the court cases, the remediation cost to the taxpayers was enormous.

Nevertheless, not one of the public officials whose duty it is to protect the taxpayers has ever expressed the slightest interest in getting restitution or even addressing the scandal now or when it occurred. Could it be omerta?

According to the court papers, back in 2016 the people who were in charge of the fire department gave permission for a local contractor, John Adorno, to dump about 17,000 cubic yards of contaminated fill from the Bronx on their property. Contrary to what the fire department maintains, former member Charlie Milo, now deceased, was not a board member or officer of the corporation, and did not have the authority to allow the dumping in the first place.

In fact, Putnam County Judge Victor Grossman opined that the fire department itself would qualify as a potentially responsible party under the law because it owned and operated the facility where the hazardous substances were disposed of.

After the fire department got caught by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) when neighbors reported the dumping operation, they were fined and forced to sign a consent agreement whereby they had to remediate the site to the satisfaction of the DEC. Based on records and court papers, this fiasco has cost the taxpayers over $2 million thus far, and although the work was completed, we will still be paying an unknown amount into the future for monitoring of the site by engineers and other professionals – not to mention that we are also on the hook for all of the legal fees that the department is now incurring with its lawsuits.

As an aside, I have been trying to get these cost records via FOIL but the fire department is not cooperating.

So, let’s review: The fire department allowed Mr. Adorno and others to dump thousands of cubic yards of contaminated fill on their property for free. At the time, the cost for disposal of this fee was $45 per yard, so if you do the numbers, it would have cost someone at least several hundred thousand dollars to get rid of the stuff. Again, according to court papers, no money changed hands, so that was really nice of whomever decided to do someone this favor. The only trouble was that when they got caught, the people didn’t have to do the time or pay the fine. The taxpayers did.

Our officials, past and present, including former supervisor Sam Oliverio, current Supervisor Jackie Annabi and a host of others who are now in office or who were during the time of this scandal, simply refuse to discuss the matter let alone work on getting restitution for the millions that we lost. Whenever he is asked in public about the issue, Councilman Louie Luongo does his own version of pleading the fifth and claims that he is not allowed to talk about it. (Not true.)

Other than the fact that they are politicians who did not want to disturb the emergency services voting bloc, there is no reason that the town couldn’t sue the fire department under the same legal theories that the fire department has sued Mr. Adorno and the other defendants. Sadly, individual citizens would not have standing to bring such a lawsuit, so whatever chance we had to get reimbursed has apparently been lost.

Instead, the long-suffering taxpayers of Putnam Valley will continue indefinitely to pay for the misdeeds that they did not commit. There will be no accountability or restitution, no matter the cost. The fire department will continue to get their $1 million a year from the town for their budget with no questions asked. They can flaunt the law with impunity, secure in the knowledge that no matter what they do, the taxpayers will be there to bail them out.

Long live the code of silence!

Patty Villanova is a Putnam Valley resident and is a Republican candidate for Town Board this year.

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