On February 18, two former officials of the town of New Windsor, New York, pleaded guilty to charges of negligently causing the release of asbestos during the 2015 demolition of former Army barracks at Stewart International Airport. The convictions of both men in the S.D.N.Y. under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §7413(c)(4), arise out of their work on soliciting bids for demolition work without disclosing that the property contained asbestos. The pleas of guilty and convictions point to the significant consequences that both government officials and construction contractors can face when performing construction work without adherence to federal and state environmental laws. It is noteworthy that the section of the Clean Air Act under which both men were charged only requires proof under a negligence standard.
In June of 2012, James Petro, then the Planning and Zoning Coordinator and Property Development Manager for New Windsor, and town engineer Richard McGoey were among town officials who discussed the need to prepare a request for bids to abate asbestos in and demolish ten buildings that were a part of a former military site acquired by the town from the United States Army. Although they had initially requested bids from asbestos inspectors to conduct asbestos surveys in the ten buildings, they ultimately decided that asbestos surveys were unnecessary because the ten buildings had already been surveyed and found to have contained asbestos.
In 2015, Petro and McGoey were among city officials who drafted a request for proposals to demolish the ten buildings. The Request for Proposal did not disclose the presence of asbestos-containing materials. In July of 2015, the town awarded the contract to demolish the ten buildings to an unnamed contractor. That contractor was not a licensed asbestos contractor and had limited experience with asbestos. The contractor did not submit a plan to abate the asbestos in the ten buildings.
During a six day period in August of 2015, the contractor demolished the ten buildings, without first removing the asbestos, by knocking the buildings down with a backhoe. This resulted in releasing asbestos into the open air. Both Petro and McGoey visited the site while the buildings were being knocked down. The demolition work was stopped on August 19, 2015 when an official of the New York State Asbestos Control Bureau suspended work.
In announcing the charges and pleas of guilty, the government highlighted its finding that at the heart of the illegal conduct by both men was their desire to cut corners and do things on the cheap. As stated above, the section of the Clean Air Act under which both men were charged and convicted only requires proof under a negligence standard. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison. Both men are scheduled to be sentenced on May 27, 2021.