Morning Read: Property rights activist indicted in Clinton County

One of the region’s most prominent property rights activists has been indicted by a Clinton County grand jury on criminal charges of “environmental endangerment,” according to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.

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.

Douglas is accused of spilling waste oil on his land near Silver Lake in 2008.

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.

Douglas has been a prominent figure in the anti-Adirondack Park Agency movement, repeatedly alleging that he’s being harassed by state agencies in an effort to force the sale of his land.

He organized a property-rights rally in October that was attended by then-congressional candidate Doug Hoffman.

These charges were brought by a local grand jury, not by the state of New York.  But Douglas told the Press-Republican that these charges were politically motivated.

“If I’m such an environmental villain, what would they wait two and a half years for?”

Read the full article here.

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22 Comments on “Morning Read: Property rights activist indicted in Clinton County”

  1. verplanck says:

    there’s a major disconnect in that story. under ‘waste oil’, the initial paragraph talks about a spill. But the subsequent paragraphs, and the quotes from Mr. Douglas don’t talk about the spill, but the burning of a used-oil furnace.

    this is poorly written, and hard to figure out what happened when there’s no discussion over the alleged spill.

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  2. Alan Gregory says:

    A more telling in-depth report would explain just how much oil and its by-products are spilled every hour of every day by plain old folks going about their lives: people feeding gas to their lawn mowers and snow blowers; spilled oil and other automotive fluids from automobile engine compartments; the runoff, during and after rainstorms, from the parking lots that surround nearly every business district and strip mall in the U.S.; and the effect of these pollutants on waterways, fish, etc.

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  3. John Warren says:

    Verplanck, the problem is the anti-environmental agenda of the reporter, who I’ve denounced a number of times for her outright false and often incomplete reporting.

    If you are a reporter and you don’t think the spill is a legitimate crime, then you obfuscate the facts by allowing Douglas to make a number of unrelated, outrageous, and unsubstantiated claims to which you don’t provide a countering argument from another source. That’s just what this report did.

    Imagine if the crime was more serious, like rape, murder, or the like – do you think the story would have looked like this? With the accused allowed to berate the accusers in print?

    Would you see a sentence like this in a story like that?

    “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.”

    I don’t think so. It’s disgraceful reporting.

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  4. Bret4207 says:

    Well, if I read it correctly there was a spill of approximately 200 gallons of waste oil, caused by a party who was barred from the property. Back when I was gainfully employed we’d have called that a Criminal Mischief case and would have gone after the guy that caused the spill. If DEC didn’t pursue this and if any of the report is factual then my retired spider sense says there’s a lot more to this story than contained in the report.

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  5. verplanck says:

    Bret,

    The allegation is that he dumped between 200 and 2000 gallons of a “hazardous substance”. Petroleum products are not defined as ‘hazardous’, so he dumped something other than used oil.

    This guy’s looking at a felony charge, which sounds a bit more severe than criminal mischief.

    This is a blow to those who claim that landowners are the best stewards of the land. This guy doesn’t seem to be.

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  6. hoax says:

    John we all know how you try to silence those that don’t follow the nut environmental line you are on. This case will be dismissed with egg on the DEC’s face again.

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  7. Bret4207 says:

    Sorry, my 6 years working with hazardous materials tells me petroleum products are often classified as hazardous substances or materials. That’s why all your fuel tankers are placarded. The correct definition will depend on exactly what it was that was spilled. There is also a probability that the specific term “hazardous substance” appears in whatever law they are citing him with and that’s why it’s used. What the definition actually applies to depends on exactly what the definitions in that law say it is. It would be nice if the actual statute was listed in the article. Of course since the article says “bulk petroleum facility” in a couple spots I’d guess it’s petroleum.

    BTW, Criminal Mischief goes right up into the Felony class.

    As for the landowner being stewards thing, if his allegations are true, that is someone did this purposely, then it wasn’t the landowner doing it. And, considering some of the major problems various gov’ts have had in the environmental area, I would still put a lot more faith in a landowner with a vested interest in his land than some NGO or government agency being the one true standard to compare things to.

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  8. John Warren says:

    Hoax,

    You’ve made that claim against me anonymously again and again on stories about the media. Why not come clean and tell us who you are and what paper you work for?

    Or at least you could provide the evidence of my attempts to “to silence those that don’t follow the nut environmental line.”

    So what’s it going to be – anonymous coward or intelligent debate of the issues?

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  9. DWhite says:

    Wasn’t this the case that was actually first investigated due to a report by Douglas’ estranged son? If the family fued results in environmental clean up and charges against this man who is clearly reckless and has no regard for environmental law, that’s a good ending.

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  10. tourpro says:

    The family-feud aspect of this story is interesting.

    And “property-rights advocate” is really an ironic label to use.

    There is a lot of background to this case – someone should do a roundup of all the stories.

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  11. Paul says:

    “This is a blow to those who claim that landowners are the best stewards of the land. This guy doesn’t seem to be.”

    Not necessarily Verplank. At least here we know who the culprit may be. Dumping on public land, and believe me lots of it occurs, is very difficult to trace back to the source.

    A new problem we have are the large conservation easement parcels. There the general public has access so even the owners don’t know who is doing what. If there is a problem; is it a member of the general public that now has access to lots of land they did not before, is it the lessee, or was it contractors working for the owners, or the owners themselves?

    Public access does not really provide protection from this type of thing in my opinion. Just look at the back roads in Northern Franklin county, they are like a tire dump and there are make-shift landfills all over the place. You should see all the old car batteries that I found dumped on easement land this summer, and one spot where there was oil seeping right out of the ground. Since it was so conspicuous my guess it was just a drive by. But now that they land can’t be posted you will see a lot more of this.

    All that said, it does sound like we may have a “bad egg” here. It does come down to the individual, but if you can’t post land you have far less control.

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  12. oa says:

    John Warren said: “So what’s it going to be – anonymous coward or intelligent debate of the issues?”
    I guess you have your answer.

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  13. Will Doolittle says:

    It’s standard reporting practice to get the accused’s side in a case like this, and you don’t have to go far to find an example: Deepwater Horizon. As I recall, the statements from BP officials were given lots of space on the front pages of papers across the country (and given air time on radio stations, isn’t that right, Brian M?) I think it’s quite customary to allow the accused his or her say in cases like this. Comparing it to a murder case makes little sense, because it is not a murder case. But if you compare it to other pollution cases, I think you will find, in almost every instance, news media across the country allow the polluter to respond to the charges.

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  14. Dave says:

    Allowing the accused to respond to charges is not the issue, Will.

    What John objected to was “allowing Douglas to make a number of unrelated, outrageous, and unsubstantiated claims”

    Comparing this to the BP coverage is just as much of a stretch as you just accused him of.

    Did BP make statements accusing environmentalists, the EPA, or others for what was happening? If they did, I must have missed that. I’m sure if that did happen though, that a legitimate reporter would have challenged them on the statements or provided counter points of view from other sources.

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  15. hoax says:

    re:Or at least you could provide the evidence of my attempts to “to silence those that don’t follow the nut environmental line.”

    On your blog you called for people to contact the reporters boss and have her fired. Because you didn’t like the way she reported on other issues. Your a bully an you have fallen lock step with the environmental community that are being found as liars. They’re perpetrators of the largest hoax the world has ever seen. Keep following and blogging your crowed will soon be left on the scrape heap of history’s great hoaxes.

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  16. Paul says:

    Why doesn’t the indictment say what he supposedly dumped? Isn’t he entitled to know what he is being accused of doing? Strange.

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  17. The DH was much more damaging and serious than this spill, don’t you think? And yet, reporters gave lots of time to BP spokesmen, many of them making unsubstantiated claims, and claims that turned out to be false. But it’s the same sort of thing — an environmental spill, perhaps even of the same substance. But, as I said, giving polluters their say is standard media practice in stories of this sort. Comparing a small oil spill to a murder case is not only outrageous, in terms of the seriousness of the accused crime, it is also comparing two things that are nothing like each other, and are not handled in the same way in the media. John’s attempts to intimidate reporters by accusing them of bias, and making vague or not-so vage threats of retaliation are really reprehensible. I have no problem with arguing with the content of the stories, but he is going quite far beyond that.

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  18. verplanck says:

    Bret,

    Not sure if you’re still reading, but check this out (from http://www.dec.ny.gov/regs/4449.html):

    Petroleum is a haz substance in NY. Mea Culpa. It must be a difference between NY & VT regs.

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  19. Bret4207 says:

    Well, to be honest there are probably a dozen different types of laws in NYS that apply to petroleum products and I’d bet most of them use differing terms. When in doubt, always check the definitions. Of course you have to know what law they are using in the first place.

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  20. Brian Mann says:

    I’ve been traveling, so I haven’t been following this thread closely. I want to respond to comments made earlier by John Warren.

    Kim Smith Dedam is one of the North Country’s hardest working and most ethical journalists.

    If it weren’t for her coverage of this issue, none of us would know about it or be talking about it.

    Leroy Douglas’s political views are certainly relevant to an environment story of this type.

    Normally, I would expect a journalist to attempt to determine whether those claims were credible or not.

    (My own reporting on this issue leaves me skeptical about some aspects of Douglas’s claims.)

    But as the article makes clear, Douglas’s various allegations of conspiracy are being tested currently in the courts.

    I’m confident that when the courts reach some conclusion about these various matters, the Press Republican will report it accurately and fairly.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  21. Paul says:

    For these kind of stories why not provide link to the indictment so we can read it for ourselves (I assume it isn’t sealed in this case).

    The DEC fined that guy who drove his truck (or I guess his boss’s truck) into Upper Saranac last winter 30 grand for the little bit of stuff that leaked out, why not any kind of charge or fine here??

    They sent 30 people to investigate? What is going on here?

    If I was Douglas I would wonder myself.

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  22. John Warren says:

    Brian,

    I agree that we should expect a journalist who includes unsubstantiated claims to attempt to determine whether those claims were credible or not. And I would take it one step farther – how about including a point of view from someone who believes those claims are false? The reporter in question has a history of failing to do that, which I have pointed out a number of times – I stand by those critiques.

    Will,

    You’ve bordered on slander by telling people that I have made “vague or not-so vague threats of retaliation.” I expect you to provide evidence of those threats or issue an apology. What retaliation are you suggesting I meant? Not reading your paper?

    If you think that holding local reporters to an ethical standard and exposing their sweetheart connections is intimidation, you are wrong, it’s public participation in media. Good citizenship.

    I understand you are new to the idea of the public being able to criticize local reporters over shoddy work (without a friendly editorial hand to weed out real criticism), but you ought to see it as an opportunity to improve your work. Maybe if more newspaper journalists did, the industry wouldn’t be in the hole it’s in.

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