BLACK BROOK -- The owner of a seasonal campground and restaurant on Silver Lake has been indicted on seven environmental charges, following an investigation by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
LeRoy Douglas, who owns about 3,500 acres in town, including more than 4 miles of shoreline on Silver Lake, has been indicted by a Clinton County grand jury on a felony charge of endangering the public health, safety or the environment because, according to the indictment, he caused the release of a hazardous substance.
The other charges, all misdemeanors, accuse Douglas of unlawfully disposing of solid waste, disturbing a streambed without a permit, failing to register a petroleum bulk storage facility, failing to provide a secondary containment system for petroleum storage tanks, failing to report spills or leaks of petroleum and failing to close out-of-service petroleum tanks.
The charges stem from a visit to Douglas' property by DEC investigators on Aug. 27, 2008.
On Wednesday, Douglas responded to the charges. The DEC, through its spokesman David Winchell, refused to address Douglas' explanations in any way, referring all comment to the Clinton County district attorney's office.
Phone messages for Timothy Blatchley, the assistant district attorney handling the case, were not returned on Wednesday, although Blatchley was in the office.
Douglas says the charges originated with his son, Michael, with whom he had a falling out a few years ago, and whose girlfriend, Elizabeth Vann, works for the DEC.
In an affidavit filed in County Court, Douglas states he filed in the summer of 2008 a criminal complaint against his son, accusing him of stealing appliances from a house on Douglas' property and vandalizing the house.
Although State Police referred the matter to the Clinton County district attorney, Michael was never charged, Douglas states.
He believes Michael was working with the DEC and the district attorney and that Michael was given immunity from prosecution for his cooperation in a case against his father, Douglas states in his affidavit.
Douglas said he kept waste oil in 55-gallon drums on his property to fuel a waste oil furnace that he used for years to heat his garage.
DEC officials were aware of his use of the furnace and storage of the waste oil in drums - they had visited his property in the past and seen the operation, Douglas said.
The felony charge refers to a spill from one or more of those oil drums, Douglas said, a spill he says he did not cause.
His son Michael did come onto his property to take photos of the oil drums at some point before the August 2008 inspection, Douglas said, even though Douglas had banned him from the property.
"Twenty-two (55) gallon drums and one saddle drum were removed from the property by a private contractor at the DEC's direction," according to a press release sent out Tuesday by the DEC.
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"Approximately 5,000 cubic yards of solid waste was located on the property including a pile of lead acid batteries, restaurant supplies, household garbage, furniture, dead animals, chemical containers, medical waste, and ash from burning solid waste," the press release reads.
Douglas said he keeps a dump trailer on the property, which he fills up with trash but which gets hauled to the dump and emptied each week. The trailer is near woods and, sometimes, animals such as raccoons and bears pull trash out and scatter it around the trailer.
The trash was scattered around in that manner when the inspectors visited his property, but the trash always gets collected and trucked to a landfill each week, he said.
He uses up 20 to 30 batteries a year in his operation, on trucks and heavy equipment, Douglas said, but he disposes of them properly.
"Once a year, I take them down and dispose of them at the scrapyard," he said.
He has a DEC permit to destroy beaver dams that get built in Silver Lake Brook, which, Douglas said, is what the charge of disturbing a stream refers to.
Winchell, the DEC spokesman, refused to check whether Douglas has a permit to destroy beaver dams in the brook.
"I've had a permit, I don't know, 15 years now," Douglas said.
The case is further complicated by Douglas' history with another state agency - the Adirondack Park Agency, which shares a parking lot with the DEC in Ray Brook, and which Douglas is suing in federal court.
Douglas' lawsuit stems from a case in which the APA claimed he had done illegal work on a road through his property. The APA first settled that case with Douglas, then reopened it.
But, after Douglas' lawyer raised questions about e-mails the APA received from private citizens about the case, the APA dropped the case and returned to the original settlement.
Douglas' lawyer, Matt Norfolk, questioned the timing of the current indictment, saying the long delay between the inspection in August 2008 and the bringing of charges makes preparing a defense difficult.
And, he asked, if the situation presented an environmental hazard, why didn't the DEC act against Douglas sooner?
In a final complication, Norfolk is asking for a special prosecutor to be assigned to the Douglas case because Norfolk is suing the Clinton County district attorney's office in an unrelated civil rights case.