Village of Lake Placid Code Enforcement Officer James Morganson wittingly or unwittingly helped a tenant of Mill Pond Partners - one of our businesses - break a lease and held another of our businesses, Placid Boatworks, out of business for the better part of half a year - even after he knew our building did not pose a hazard, as he alleged.
Now, Mr. Morganson seems perplexed as to why Placid Boatworks and Mill Pond Partners "tried to make (it) a campaign against the building department." I will attempt to enlighten him.
My wife, Jan, and I are small business people. We don't have paid vacations, sick leave and personal time. We don't have paid health insurance. We work hard every day for our living.
We renovated a building which now houses three - and until recently, four - businesses. On Dec. 13, Morganson sent us a letter that bluntly opened, "Current interior air conditions are a hazard . . ." He then went on to require that we hire an engineer to "assess the hazard" he alleged. He was then told by both myself and my lawyer that the tenant who filed the fume complaint with him was trying to break a three-year lease after only 11 months. (On Nov. 30, she had asked Jan if she could sign another lease elsewhere. She said she had an opportunity to move to a location she liked better. Unfortunately, Morganson bought into her "fume" lie. Even his superior at the Department of State later said, "She played the system.") When asked on the phone what he was basing his accusation on, Morganson said, "She (the former tenant) had a survey done." When asked by whom and when asked to provide credentials, Morganson said, "He's taken classes."
During our conversation, there was no mention by Morganson that he smelled anything in our building - a revelation that came about in his affidavit to the court months later. No record of the tests "he" did and that "she" had done was ever found in Morganson's files - an apparent prevarication. On Dec. 20, Morganson issued a stop-work order, preventing me, without any factual basis, from conducting my livelihood. Morganson falsely claimed that we don't build boats during the winter; the reality is that two other craftsmen I employ were instantly left without jobs because of his action.
We refused to lend any credence to the tenant's lies and exaggerations by responding to Morganson. (In his affidavit, Morganson states, "During December 2010 I advised (the former tenant) that I would no longer take her phone calls." Why? Did it finally dawn on him he was being used?). We instead hired a reputable testing firm, Atlantic Testing, to conduct air tests in the building while we were building a boat and spraying a mold. Of 61 chemical parameters tested down to five parts per BILLION, only four registered at all. Daily exposure limits are measured in hundreds of parts per MILLION. The nearest we were to any EPA or OSHA limit was 1/2600th. Hardly a hazardous environment.
On Feb. 8, we sent these test results to the mayor, the village board, Morganson and the DEC. I had a 20-minute conversation with Mayor Randall, who told me Atlantic Testing was the "gold standard," that he knew the folks who started it, and that he would certainly take their results over any others. Then, nothing.
For 72 more days, from Feb. 8 through April 21, the village of Lake Placid and Morganson's stop-work order actually PREVENTED us from getting a DEC Air Registration Certificate - the permitting equivalent of getting a car registration. Michael Sundberg of the DEC's Air Division, after reviewing our materials lists and methods, said we were employing the best available technology and could be using many times the raw materials we were and still fall under the DEC's most minor certification requirements. He was prepared to issue our Air Registration Certificate in February as soon as he was able to visit our shop and witness our manufacturing process. He had read the air test results from Atlantic and was speechless when I told him we still were being prevented from working and couldn't show him our process.
We chose not to substantiate Morganson's (and the former tenant's) "hazardous air" allegation by hiring an engineer; we showed it was false by obtaining REAL TEST DATA. So what did he do? Sat back and said, "They haven't responded." Well, yes, not in the way he "simon-says'd." Apparently someone "who's taken classes" and someone working with permanent solutions and hair dyes who's complaining of smells trumps real data in Lake Placid.
Only an article in the Enterprise in early April got the village moving. Incidentally, the only additional requirement the DEC made before it finally DID issue us an Air Registration Certificate via email on April 21 (without seeing our process) was that we extend our stack height outside the building by eight feet. VILLAGE ATTORNEY JANET BLISS WAS COPIED AT THE SAME TIME WE WERE, YET DID NOT WRITE TO ALLOW US TO REOPEN UNTIL MAY 27 - AN ADDITIONAL AND UNECESSARY 35 DAY DELAY.
Morganson now claims he "lifted the order as soon as his office was notified officially."
Remember, this could have been accomplished in early February, or at least by April 22, if not for the bumbling, vindictive bureaucracy of Lake Placid, which doesn't enforce DEC law anyway. Instead, the delays cost us tens of thousands of dollars more and prevented good people from working.
Now, after Morganson called DEC in and they found nothing wrong in the building and issued our air registration, he claims that we "installed an air filtration system without a permit" and framed walls and ran wiring without a building permit.
Come on down, Jim. We'll show you the permit, in your own handwriting, which was issued for "Interior renovations" as well as the electrical inspections. Anything illegally done by the former tenant, as well as damages to our building, will be addressed in court.
Ironically, all of the state and federal agencies Morganson called in to investigate were very courteous and helpful; he was the only one who wasn't. Perhaps more businesses would come to Lake Placid, rather than leave, if the village were more business-friendly. This place deserves professional people doing public work in a fair, professional and timely manner rather than acting without basis and costing businesses unnecessary time and money to defend themselves.