State Sues Saratoga County Builder For Failed Septic Systems

Attorney General Spitzer today announced legal action against a Saratoga County developer and excavator for failing to repair defective septic and drinking water systems at the Woodland Manor subdivision in the Town of Northumberland.

The lawsuit is the result of complaints from 14 homeowners who have experienced failing and substandard septic systems in their new homes that were built by Donangelo, Inc. of Gansevoort and Jacobie Excavating, Inc. of Fort Edward.

The principal in the development company, Angelo Rosse, owner of Donangelo, Inc. and a contractor, Melvin Jacobie, owner of Jacobie Excavating, Inc. have been charged with violating the Public Health Law, the Environmental Conservation Law and with creating a public nuisance. The lawsuit was filed February 1 in Saratoga County Supreme Court. In addition, at the request of the Attorney General, Saratoga County Supreme Court Judge Frank Williams signed an order on February 5 freezing Donangelo's and Rosse's financial assets.

"Buying a new home is the most important investment most people will ever make," Spitzer said. "The developers of this subdivision created an environmental menace that turned the dream of home ownership into a nightmare."

In 1989 and 1990, the State Health Department approved plans for septic systems and wells for the entire Woodland Manor subdivision. All homes there have individual drinking wells and septic systems installed by the developers. The Health Department issued the approvals because Saratoga County - the fastest growing county in the state - has no county health department.

In 1999 and 2000, the second phase of the development was begun, but the developers built the septic and water systems in violation of Health Department regulations and the approvals it issued for the project.

As a result, sewage has been backing up into homes. Drinking water wells were built too close to septic systems. Sink holes have appeared in several yards and septic water is backing up into the washing machine in at least one home. Raw sewage is pooling in yards, attracting swarms of mosquitoes and creating a public health threat. Foul odors prevent some homeowners from enjoying their yards and decks in warm weather.

Three streams run through Woodland Manor and could become polluted as a result of the persistent septic system failures there. Contamination in the water could include E.coli and Salmonella pathogens, both of which can cause severe and fatal effects in humans.

The situation has caused significant strain in the community and led to homeowner protests. In response, Donangelo Inc. filed a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit against several homeowners who posted signs on their lawns saying, "Buyer Beware," "Basement Wet," and "Beware of Builder."

In November 2000, the Health Department requested that Donangelo, Inc. repair or replace the defective septic and drinking water systems. But other than digging up yards, the work has not advanced and the problems persist. When Donangelo, Inc. failed to carry out the necessary work to repair the problems, the Department of Health referred the case to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution.

The Attorney General is seeking a court order requiring the developer to redesign and/or replace failed septic and drinking water systems, come into full compliance with public health and environmental laws and pay restitution to homeowners for costs they incurred in dealing with their septic problems.

The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General John Sipos of the Environmental Protection Bureau, Health Department attorney Seth Abrams and Health Department engineer Glenn Bruso.