Filing Suit Against NYC...
Plus Rochester & Wawarsing, Too
WAWARSING – It's a matter of principle that has them suing, say Woodstock residents Gregory and Emily Soltanoff, owners of the Old Homestead trailer park on Joshua Avenue in Wawarsing. They are pursing litigation against the City of New York, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the towns of Wawarsing and Rochester after learning their property would not be eligible for participation in the NYC DEP's Neighborhood Support Program, which was established in recent years to assist property owners affected by groundwater flooding and/or seepage resulting in structural and mechanicals damage as an alleged result of the leaking Delaware Aqueduct.
When the program started in May 2014, Emily Soltanoff said, everyone the property owners spoke with indicated the park would be eligible. Conditions were bad then...and still are, she added. The road within the park is in a near constant state of disrepair as well as septics requiring regular pumping. There are concerns regarding ground stability and flooding, as well as water supply contamination, structural damage and pooling of water.
"We've invited the Department of Health to watch a sewer tank pump. You can watch the water pour right back in as it's being pumped," Soltanoff said.
So she and her husband spoke with engineers and were being scheduled for inspections as part of the program when all of a sudden, she said, they were informed that because it's a commercial property, they were not eligible to participate in the $5 million relief program. Nor, she added that she and her husband were informed, could they be part of the buyout program.
Soltanoff added that the Homestead property is zoned residential.
"They didn't know what to do with us," she added.
In July 2014, the town of Wawarsing okayed Catskill Construction Consultants, LLC, a subcontractor for the program, to perform inspections on the skirting and undercarriages of the mobile homes. Shortly after, however, Catskill Construction owner Brian Schug — who also serves as the Village of Ellenville's building inspector — said he was told not to proceed.
Other commercial properties within the designated program perimeter have been inspected and are eligible to participate in the program, set to conclude May 2017. Soltanoff also pointed out that there are twenty families living on the Homestead property, all leasing the land they occupy but owning their trailers.
"For us, it comes down to they [the NYC DEP] having admitted fault for all the other properties," Soltanoff said, pointing out that if she and her husband win their case, a portion of the proceeds of the judgment — potentially upwards of $5 million — would go towards upgrades to the park, including above ground septic systems.
Alexander Mainetti of Mainetti, Mainetti & O'Connor, P.C. of Kingston is representing the Soltanoffs. Greg Soltanoff, in addition to being a chiropractor, made local and national news last June when he attempted to board a plane in Newark, NJ while carrying a loaded revolver in his hand luggage.
Currently, Mainetti said, the case — filed in January — is before Ulster County Supreme Court Judge James Gilpatric and a decision should be made in the next thirty to sixty days on whether it proceeds. While the City of New York and NYC DEP are believed to be the parties responsible, Mainetti added, the towns of Wawarsing and Rochester have also been listed as potential parties until responsibility is fully flushed out.
There may be a trial at some point once it's been determined whether New York and its Department of Environmental Protection are liable for water damage to the Soltanoffs' property, the attorney continued. But even then a trial wouldn't occur for at least another year to year-and-a-half. If the city and/or DEP is found not liable, the case could still proceed against the towns of Wawarsing and Rochester, who Mainetti said would likely seek a way for the City to pay restitution.
Not deterred by the unlimited resources that the Big Apple has, Mainetti said he's confident. He added that keeping the case in the county is an advantage.
Representing the town of Wawarsing, attorney Daniel Heppner of Rusk, Wadlin, Heppner & Martuscello LLP in Kingston and Marlboro, said the litigation is in its infancy.
"The town will be submitting its answer," he said. "The town will also be joining with New York City's motion to dismiss. This will not be decided for some time."
In the meantime, the Soltanoffs continue to work with the Department of Health on a laundry list of concerns.
"It's an impossible problem, but they're working with us to keep up to compliance," Emily Soltanoff said. "This has become an issue involving the health department, the city, and the DEP but no one is nearly as affected as much as the people who live there. We have to do what we can to help these people."