BLACK BROOK — A Clinton County grand jury has indicted Silver Lake property owner Leroy Douglas on criminal charges of environmental endangerment.
The indictment stems from an alleged waste-oil spill in 2008.
Both the Douglas Corp. and Douglas are accused of endangering "the public health, safety or the environment" — a third-degree felony — according to the indictment signed by Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie.
The indictment also carries six misdemeanor counts: prohibited disposal of solid waste, disturbance of streambeds without a valid permit, failure to register a petroleum bulk-storage facility, failure to provide overfill prevention and secondary containment systems, failure to report spills or leaks and failure to properly close petroleum bulk-service tanks.
Assistant DA Timothy Blatchley is prosecuting the case but was out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment on the proceeding.
The court papers accuse Douglas and his company of reckless conduct, "which caused the release of more than 200 gallons or 2,000 pounds of an aggregate weight or volume of a substance hazardous to public health, safety or the environment" on or about Aug. 27, 2008.
Court papers do not name the substance allegedly spilled or say how it spilled, and no formal Department of Environmental Conservation violation has been filed, according to Douglas's attorney, Matthew Norfolk of Briggs Norfolk in Lake Placid.
The release of a hazardous substance is separate from Adirondack Park Agency enforcement action brought in 2007 against Douglas.
That violation dealt with an area of fill beside an old road on a parcel Douglas had subdivided to sell.
NO DEC ACTION
None of the charges drew violations from the Department of Environmental Conservation.
"The department (DEC) has not filed any administrative or civil proceedings against my client alleging any of these acts," Norfolk said when asked about the criminal charges on Wednesday.
"There was never any cease-and-desist order from DEC issued to either Mr. Douglas or the Douglas Corporation. I've never seen these prosecuted in a criminal action before."
Douglas will be arraigned in Clinton County Court on Tuesday.
"We intend to plead not guilty to the charges," Norfolk said.
Contacted Wednesday, Douglas said the allegations stem from an intentional spill made by a family member he had banned from the property.
And then the alleged spill was brought to DEC's attention.
"I had a waste-oil furnace since the early '70s. I burned waste oil that I had acquired from some of my equipment, and my neighbors and I used it to heat my garage for the logging business.
"I never would have believed I was going to be in trouble for waste oil."
Douglas said that on Aug. 27, 2008, a team of about 30 DEC officers came onto his property and searched everywhere.
It was the second such occurrence in a matter of years, the first of which netted not one complaint, according to Douglas.
"And the same waste-oil furnace was in place."
He thinks it all stems from his refusal to sell to the state a right-of-way he had on the Bainbridge property. That section of Douglas's land was listed as a priority for addition to the Forest Preserve in 2006.
Douglas said the state's interest dates to conversations he had had with the late Sen. Ron Stafford and, ultimately, he would not sell land to the state.
"Then it was put on the governor's wish list, the Open Space Plan. And that's when all these environmental actions started.
"DEC has had warrants to search my property twice since I wouldn't sell," Douglas said. "If I'm such an environmental villain, what would they wait two and a half years for?"
Douglas said DEC took the barrels of waste oil off his property in August 2008 and he took the empty barrels to the scrap metal yard that September and dismantled the furnace.
"And two and a half years later, they're bringing criminal charges?"
State statute allows the Attorney General's Office or a county's district attorney to handle alleged environmental criminal investigations.
But the Attorney General's Office is defending state officials in a civil-rights case that Douglas brought in federal court in March against the APA, stemming from the wetlands enforcement action.
That lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages and alleges malicious prosecution.
In another civil case pending in State Supreme Court, Douglas claims the APA, the Adirondack Council and Brian Ruder, president of the Adirondack Council Board — and Douglas's neighbor on Silver Lake — interfered with his right to develop and subdivide private property.
He says his pending legal action has angered state officials, and they are trying to get even.
"This whole thing goes to the fact that the APA, the DEC and the environmentalists are scared to death. And this is the only way they can do anything to me."
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org