'It's a bait and switch.' Town of Wallkill horse breeder says feds filed lawsuit against him over money
An Orange County horse breeder being sued by the federal government for allegedly filling in wetlands on his property is speaking exclusively with News 12 about the suit - and says it's all about money.
Thomas Pushkal used to fight fires for the FDNY, and now he’s fighting the feds as a farmer. Pushkal and his family own Maplewood Warmbloods LLC in the Town of Wallkill.
The horse farm on Bart Bull Road is an elite, international business for sport horse breeding and training.
"More specifically warmbloods," said Pushkal. “We have outgrown our footprint, and what I was trying to do was to expand. Re-contouring some of the property.”
That plan near the edge of his property along the Wallkill River got Pushkal into trouble in 2018 when the Environmental Protection Agency got involved and the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a federal lawsuit against him, the company and its three other owners last month for allegedly filling in protected wetlands on the property.
“I was going by the DEC guidance for six years before the issue. They said you can go to the river and fill as high as you want, which is not true," said Pushkal.
Pushkal says the town and state gave him the wrong information and approved plans to proceed, although he didn’t have any documents to show News 12.
"The defendants violated the Clean Water Act by discharging concrete, metal, glass and other fill material into wetlands that are part of the waters of the United States," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.
Pushkal says he's spent more than $1 million to fix EPA-identified problems, and that the lawsuit is about hefty fines he said he now can’t afford to pay.
“This isn’t fair. It’s a bait and switch. I negotiated in good faith to get here, and now they’re saying I have to pay $180,000," said Pushkal.
A representative for the DEC says they issued Pushkal multiple notices for solid waste and stormwater violations since 2017 and that no agreement has been made to fix them.
News 12 reached out to Town of Wallkill officials for further information but has not immediately heard back.
"This lawsuit will hold the defendants accountable for allegedly violating our environmental laws and require them to remedy the alleged significant damage they have caused to protected wetlands," said Williams.