Monday, September 21, 2009

2009 Democratic Platform

1. We support the creation of a balanced and sensible line-item budget. Every citizen should be able to read the budget and understand how his or her tax dollars are being spent. We also strongly support the idea of developing a five-year financial plan which prepares the town for future needs by building reserves.

2. Your Democratic team supports and is currently promoting a town-wide referendum on the Copake Green project. This 122 acres of prime agricultural land must be protected. We encourage the Town Board of Copake to express strong opposition to this project. The future of the hamlet is at stake.

3. We support the long-term development of Copake as a sustainable community. Copake should be both environmentally protected and economically viable thus guaranteeing the same quality of life to all who live here now and for future generations. Copake also needs to be a cohesive community. Whether you live and work here full time or are only able to spend part of your time in our wonderful community, you all help make us who we are. And you all have a voice in this community.

4. We are totally committed to open government through strict adherence to Open Meeting Law and full communication with the public at all times. An informed public is the bedrock and strength of our community.

5. We support the development of intelligent alternative energies in the Town of Copake including solar, wind and hydropower.

6. We support and will pursue fair and equitable property assessments for all. This has been neglected for far too long.

7. We believe town government should enthusiastically encourage the efforts of local citizen groups and business people to economically revitalize our community.
8. We strongly support our agricultural heritage, recognizing that farmland preservation is the key to protecting our open spaces.

9. Recognizing the contributions our seniors make to the community, we support initiatives which will assist our seniors in remaining within and contributing to our community.

10. We will continue the on-going fight to protect our environment and to develop a plan for the conservation of our agricultural land and our precious water resources.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Of Common Sense, Local Signs and Helping our Local Businesses

There is a situation going on in Copake that many may not be aware of. I will try to explain.

Last year The Copake Falls Day Committee sought and received verbal approval from the town board at a Town Board meeting for the installation of a new hamlet sign for Copake Falls. The response from the Board was that the project sounded like a great improvement to the appearance of our hamlet. The only request from the town board was that approval should be received from the Department of Transportation and Copake Highway Superintendent Larry Proper. Those were proper requests, and in fact, the approvals were received from both the DOT and the Copake Highway Superintendent without any reservation, other than that the new sign should not hinder traffic viewing angles, which it doesn't.

The idea was to remove seven rather unattractive DOT individual signs on the hamlet triangle and replace them with one single attractive Welcome to Copake Falls sign. It is important to note that what was removed were local business directional signs. You've all seen them around town and across the county. Those seven signs, for which our merchants must pay a fee to the Department of Transportation, were removed and replaced with a single very attractive sign.

The internal problem here in Copake is that Deputy Supervisor Joe LaPorta feels that the new sign is a violation of town zoning law and so far has been very insistent than the new, attractive, merchants’ directional signs must come down. I think that Joe is missing a few key factors.

First and foremost the triangle is not under Copake Zoning law just like the road signs along Route 22 aren't, because Copake zoning law is superseded by the State DOT whose Route 344 completely surrounds the triangle. This is a NY State Department of Transportation concern, and they have already given their complete blessings.

Second, the Copake VFW gave their enthusiastic endorsement to the newly cleaned up triangle and sign, which gives back the prominence to the VFW memorial that it so richly deserves. The memorial proudly states, "In grateful memory of the services rendered by the men and woman of this community in order that the principles of this republic might be preserved." This memorial site has been cleaned up and is now properly adorned with flowers in the growing season.

Third, and no less important, here is a situation where a group of citizens grabbed the bull by the horns and cleaned up a section of our town, all on their own, at their own cost. We all talk about revitalizing our various communities -- here is a prime example of what can be done. The Copake Falls Day Committee made their section of town much more beautiful, and for that they have my personal thanks and gratitude. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson here.

Last, I would suggest that town officials should all be using their energy to help our local merchants, not hinder them in these precarious times. This matter will be discussed at the next Copake Town Board Meeting, which is May 14th at 7:30 PM in Copake Town Hall. Anyone who has an opinion or a stake in this should attend.

Bob Sacks
Copake Town Councilman

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Attorney General Cuomo asked to probe Cascino

Attorney General Cuomo asked to probe Cascino
The Roe Jan Independent

COPAKE--Two state legislators have asked state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate Copake Valley Farm owner Salvatore Cascino.

Following a public outcry at Mr. Cascino's efforts for over a decade to circumvent local and state regulations, and the length of time it has taken for the court to sanction him, Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (R-103rd) has joined forces with State Senator Stephen Saland (R-41st) to call for a thorough investigation of Mr. Cascino's activities not only by the state Attorney General's Office, but also the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Assemblyman Molinaro announced his and the senator's intentions in a letter to the editor that appears in this issue. The Independent called for an investigation of Mr. Cascino in an editorial last week.

"Senator Saland and I agree. Mr. Cascino must be held accountable and his activities must comply with local, state and federal law. He is responsible for adhering to all appropriate codes and regulations. Columbia County Judge [Acting Supreme Court Judge] Jonathan Nichols and the Office of the Attorney General have decided clearly on the matter," says the assemblyman in his letter.

Mr. Cascino is currently under a temporary restraining order intended to prevent him from dumping any more waste or other materials on his property, but neighbors and town officials believe the prohibited activity is continuing.

Mr. Molinaro noted that there is "unanimity" between his office and the senator's that more should be done by the state to monitor Mr. Cascino's ongoing activity in and around the districts they represent. He said in a phone interview Thursday that he also wants to understand why and how this has gone on for so long.

"We're not presuming anything other than enforcement of clear violations," said the assemblyman, adding that state Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Patrick Hooker is being included in communications from him and Senator Saland on the matter, "so he is aware of our concerns."

The letter to the attorney general was expected to go out late Thursday or Friday at the latest.

Mr. Molinaro also noted his joint sponsorship with Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-92nd) of Westchester, of a bill that would require applicants for DEC permits to include any and all records about prior violations of the law.

The bill was approved by the Assembly, but was introduced too late to be taken up by the Senate before the end of the legislative session. The assemblyman anticipates the re-introduction of the bill in the next session.

Senator Saland could not be reached for comment before press deadline yesterday.

Most recently, on August 2, the Town of Copake's ongoing litigation against Mr. Cascino was the subject of a special meeting attended by about 100 people. Many of the residents who spoke at that meeting called for the involvement of the attorney general in getting Mr. Cascino to comply with the law. Mr. Cascino has been in violation of state or town law at his Copake Valley Farm property for the past 11 years.

Attorney Carl G. Whitbeck, the town's special counsel on the Cascino matter, told the crowd at the August 2 meeting that the Town Board had agreed in July to pursue yet another contempt motion against Mr. Cascino for continuing to dump unknown materials on his 300-acre property in violation of a temporary restraining order issued in November 2006 by Judge Jonathan Nichols.

Residents have witnessed and photographed large dump trucks pulling onto the Cascino property from points south on Route 22 and dumping loads of what could be soil or could be crushed up construction and demolition (C+D) debris, Mr. Whitbeck said at the August 2 meeting.

The judge's restraining order prevents Mr. Cascino from constructing or excavating or depositing material of any type on the property.

Judge Nichols still has a prior contempt motion and the principal lawsuit before him, which have not yet been heard.

Also pending against Mr. Cascino is an enforcement action brought by the attorney general on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Conservation for violations of state law because he filled in a wetland and along the Noster Kill, a protected trout stream, and built a 30-foot-wide steel bridge across the stream without obtaining permits.

The attorney general's office worked out a settlement agreement, called a consent order, that requires Mr. Cascino to remove all the fill he deposited in the wetlands, pay over $100,000 in penalties, close the bridge and remove the road he built leading to it.

While Mr. Cascino has apparently completed delineation of the wetlands and gotten approval for a remediation plan in the area north of Lackawanna Road, Mr. Whitbeck said at the August 2 meeting that officials at the Attorney General's Office told him that Mr. Cascino had not gotten DEC approval for a remediation plan in the area of the bridge and has now accrued two violations of the consent order timetables.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is now demanding that Mr. Cascino submit the required documents by August 12 or be ordered to appear before Judge Nichols again, said Mr. Whitbeck.

Mr. Cascino recently made application to the town Planning Board to build several new structures, including a just-under 25,000-square-foot barn and a grain silo system. A public hearing on those plans was scheduled before the Planning Board August 7.

Attorney Anna Kirschner, who represents Mr. Cascino on his building proposals, said she had no comment on Assemblyman Molinaro's and Senator Saland's call for an investigation of her client by the attorney general.

She did have a lot to say about other things, maintaining that there is no C+D debris on the Cascino property. She invited people to go to "check [Mr. Cascino's] yard at 4 Exterior Street in the Bronx," the site of his Bronx-based waste hauling business, to see that he does not deal in C+D, just concrete, asphalt, rocks and soil, which he processes in a grinder.

Ms. Kirschner also said her client is still interested in giving the town his steel bridge and connecting road over the Noster Kill. She said that if the town won't accept it because it is the subject of litigation and wants to wait until the litigation is settled then the road will no longer be intact because Mr. Cascino has been ordered by the attorney general to remove it. If the town agrees to accept the bridge and road, she said, "the issue disappears."

To contact Diane Valden email

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Editorial: What's a dumper to do?

Editorial: What's a dumper to do?
PITY POOR SAL CASCINO. Look at all the people picking on him: a mean
ol' county judge, a grumpy state attorney general and the tree-huggers
at the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Even his
neighbors on the Copake Planning Board have it in for him. And all he
wants is to be left alone to raise his herd of dump trucks.

We've listened to sympathy expressed recently for Mr. Cascino and his
Copake Valley Farm operation along Route 22 in the Town of Copake. The
gist of it is that the guy has the right to do what he wants on his
300-acre property.

Fair enough. But let's say your next-door neighbors build an
amusement park, and one morning you wake up to the sound of a roller
coaster outside your bedroom window. That can't happen to you, because
your town has laws that limit where a person can put a roller coaster,
right? But what happens if your neighbor ignores the law?

Without obtaining a permit Mr. Cascino messed with the Noster
Kill, a protected trout stream that runs through his property,
changing it so much that the DEC ordered him to put it back the way it
was. Maybe Mr. Cascino thought that the rules didn't apply to him. He
blew off the concerns of environmental authorities until the Attorney
General's Office intervened and forced him to repair the damage he had
caused to a resource the public has an interest in preserving.

Does anybody really care about the fate of a few fish and
reptiles? Possibly not, but consider this: Mr. Cascino has dumped a
whole lot of what looks like construction and demolition debris on his
land, despite a town prohibition against dumping that kind of stuff.

In cities you often have to knock down an old building in order
to build a new one, and the debris from the demolition has to go
somewhere. The taxpayers in a town like Copake might benefit someday
from accepting this type of waste under carefully regulated
conditions. But right now the town does not allow the debris to be
spread over fields and dumped beside streams. Mr. Cascino has no more
right than any other citizen to ignore laws that don't suit him.

His activities grew so blatant that last year County Court Judge
Jonathan Nichols imposed a temporary restraining order that forbids
Mr. Cascino from doing any kind of construction or excavation at his
property. But the town believes some work continues at the site. It's
as if the judge's ruling meant nothing to Mr. Cascino. Neighbors have
photographed dump trucks driving up Route 22 and dropping their loads
at his Copake Valley Farm.

This county has good reason to fear unregulated dumping. There
is at least one lingering hazardous waste site here that was once used
for construction and demolition debris. According to at least one
expert, that waste was "cocktailed"--laced with toxic materials like
PCBs that would have been far more expensive to dispose of safely.

Now, after persistently flouting state and local regulations and
behaving as if he needn't obey a county judge, Mr. Cascino has the
gall to propose new construction at his site and to have his lawyer
resist calls by the town Planning Board to provide a comprehensive
plan showing the facilities he already has and all the new structures
he expects to build.

Mr. Cascino's behavior constitutes a threat that extends well
beyond the borders of Copake. The town has mounted a sophisticated
legal case in an attempt to force him to comply with the law. So far,
it hasn't worked. If he gets away with doing as he sees fit here, he
can do it anywhere.

In the past only the power of the state attorney general, Andrew
Cuomo, has deterred him. It's time for town and county officials to
call for a thorough investigation by the attorney general of Mr.
Cascino and his operations--not only in Copake but in the Bronx,
Dutchess County and anywhere else he does business.

In the meantime, the Planning Board should stick by its
requirement that Mr. Cascino provide one document that details all the
existing and proposed facilities on his property. Until he delivers
that data, the town should suspend its review of whatever he wants to
do next.

His agents portray him as just another beleaguered farmer, but
the people of Copake now know Sal Cascino better than that. He's a guy
who shows nothing but contempt for the community and its standards,
and for the law.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Little schoolhouse now big headache

Little schoolhouse now big headache
By Diane Valden
COPAKE FALLS--The historic Copake Iron Works Schoolhouse on Route 22 at the corner of Bain Road was given to the town six years ago with the intention that it be restored within two years as part of the preservation of the town's heritage.
Now, with restoration deadline past by four years, the donor wants the town to recommit to the project and get it done or give the schoolhouse back.

Since the March 2002 acceptance by the town of the 24-by-40-foot, one-room schoolhouse, which dates from the mid-1800s, little has been done in the way of building restoration, even though the deadline for completion of project was two years from when the building was donated.

In the original donation agreement, lifelong town resident Edgar M. Masters gave the town the schoolhouse, three-quarters of an acre surrounding the structure and $10,000 toward the restoration effort.

The terms of the gift required that the town in cooperation with the Roeliff Jansen Historical Society match Mr. Master's cash contribution two-to-one. The town anteed up $10,000 to add to Mr. Master's $10,000, and the historical society mounted a fundraising campaign that netted another $16,000 for the schoolhouse.
According to financial records provided to The Independent by town Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, all of that $36,000 has been spent on foundation masonry and floor work.
There is $15,000 designated in the town's 2008 budget for schoolhouse work. In a March 2004 story about the schoolhouse in The Independent, the estimated cost to complete the project was $75,000.Most recently estimates were sought for putting a new roof on the structure.

The town was poised to accept the bid of one roofing contractor, but subsequently found he did not have proper insurance coverage. Currently, the town has two bid proposals for roof work: one from Kevin Carey Building for $35,285 and the other from Pinnacle Roofing, Inc., for $26,500 at non-union non-prevailing wages or $33,750 at state prevailing wages.

At the April Town Board meeting, Schoolhouse Restoration Committee member Ed Ferratto said the Pinnacle estimate would be $9,000 less for asphalt shingles as opposed to cedar shingles.

Yet another aspect of the schoolhouse story is the ongoing questioning by Copake resident John Keeler about how matters relating to the schoolhouse have been handled by the town from the beginning. He has questioned the Town Board on several occasions about how the town can spend money on the schoolhouse when it has so many other necessary expenditures, like skyrocketing fuel costs, roadwork and a highway garage that needs to be fenced in to prevent thefts of road materials and vandalism.

Mr. Keeler questions how the town came to accept the schoolhouse gift in the first place, whether the public had any say about it and whether bid requests for schoolhouse work have been properly advertised.

He has even suggested that the town should save itself any further expense where the schoolhouse is concerned and give it back.
At a special April 25 meeting of the Town Board, the subject of the schoolhouse came up again, with the receipt of a letter to Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley from Mr. Masters. In the letter Mr. Masters wrote, "It is my intention to instruct my attorney to initiate appropriate legal proceedings to compel the return of my cash gift and to re-convey the real property including the schoolhouse to me with all costs, including attorney's fees to be paid by the town if the following conditions are not met by May 8."

Mr. Masters wants all the town funds previously designated in this year's budget to be released so that restoration work can get moving. He also wants the town to approve a resolution at the May Town Board meeting that affirms the Town's "unequivocal commitment to complete the restoration of the building by September 1, 2009, in accordance with standards set by the Board of Directors of the Roe Jan Historical Society."

Town Attorney Kevin Thiemann said the letter did not make it "exactly clear what he wants the town to commit to" or how much has to be done by the date indicated to complete the work. He said he will have to check with Mr. Master's attorney, William F. Ryan, to get clarification.

Roe Jan Historical Society Member Elinor Mettler, who has taken over as chair of the schoolhouse renovation committee, told the board that the town had already invested money in the first step of the renovation, that grants are being sought for project costs and that many community members have already generously donated to the project because they believed in it. She said the town owes it to these people to see this project through.

Though some board members seemed inclined to release the appropriated funds in accordance with Mr. Masters' request, Mr. Thiemann advised against it saying, "If you release the funds and then do not comply with the second stage, you may be subject to legal action."

Councilman Daniel Tompkins noted his commitment to the project and pointed out that the state is investing $2 million in renovations at the nearby Taconic State Park in Copake Falls.

Councilwoman Gabaccia voiced her support for the project, but cautioned the board to investigate the potential financial outlay before taking on any project in the future.

In a phone interview Monday, Mr. Masters said that the determination of project completeness hinges on the Roe Jan Historical Society and "what they wish for the inside [of the building] and that the town has provided funds to complete the project by the specified date."

When he was considering making a gift of the schoolhouse to the town, Mr. Masters said he first approached the historical society about it. Since a precedent had been set with the Old Copake Falls Church, where the town took responsibility for/ownership of the building and the historical society handled the rest, the previous administration accepted it.

The current administration has done nothing but "procrastinate," he said. At the special meeting, the board decided to hold off on any action until the May 8 meeting.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pump Prices Pinch Farms

Pump Prices Pinch Farms

HILLSDALE--With the price of regular gas ranging from $3.54 to $3.77 a gallon as of Thursday--and diesel fuel at nearly $4.70 locally, rising energy prices are rippling through the economy. And nobody is more aware of that than farmers. The problem for farmers is not just the price of fuel, although Eric Ooms, a farmer and the president of the Columbia County Farm Bureau, points out that the cost of filling a 100-gallon tractor tank has gone from $100 to more than $300 over the past couple of years. That's enough for 14 hours of fieldwork. At the same time, he and his fellow dairy farmers are also paying more to have their milk delivered to processing plants, and all farmers--organic or conventional--are paying more for fertilizer. "You come to realize that the whole economy runs on fuel," said Mr. Ooms.

"And I don't think anybody can say it's going to change any time soon." Increased costs for producers are already being reflected in retail prices. "Food prices in general have shown some major increases in the last 45 days," said Todd Erling of the Columbia Hudson Partnership and Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation.

"I've been going to the same bagel shop since 1995, and when I went in last week they felt compelled to tell me: 'Todd, the prices have gone up.'" The price increases reflect what products are costing retailers, said Mr. Erling, and much of the increase can be blamed on higher surcharges for deliveries. "It's going to go deep," he said. "Unfortunately, when food production prices go up it hits the pocket of every American."

The price of nitrogen fertilizer is up by about 30% over last year, according to Dipper Donahue of Caro-Vail in Niverville, a major supplier of agricultural products to area farmers. But Peter Vail Jr. of Caro-Vail's Salem, NY, outlet attributed those increases less to petroleum costs than to increased worldwide demand for grain. "Energy prices affect [fertilizer] prices, but it's not energy alone," said Mr. Vail. "The demand for fertilizer to grow grain in these countries that have discovered protein, combined with ethanol, has created a grain market that is very bullish." But many fertilizers are actually based on natural gas, according to Mr. Ooms. And petroleum is also used to make many of the pesticides and herbicides used in large-scale farming.

Over the long term, Mr. Erling hopes to see local biofuels production on a scale similar to the small iron foundries that dotted the Columbia County landscape in the early 19th century. A study carried out by his organization found that large-scale production of biofuels would not be cost-effective because of transportation costs, according to Mr. Erling. But he said smaller refineries can be built, and agreements could be worked out in advance between the refineries and local farms similar to those that currently exist between farmers and meat packers, ensuring them of a market for their products. "It's technologically feasible and the market is here," he said. "New York and Pennsylvania together are a larger market for diesel and home heating fuel than Texas or California." Mr. Erling said the area is well suited to such biofuel crop sources as rapeseed, which is used to make canola oil, and soybeans, which can be used as cattle feed even after the oil is pressed out.

Soybeans also have the advantage of being a nitrogen-fixing crop, making them ideal for rotation with corn. "Biofuels are not the silver bullet, but they're one piece of the solution," said Mr. Erling. "Trying to work it out is going to be a challenge. But even if petroleum prices go into a nosedive, it's only a matter of time before we get back into this situation again," he said. To provide more immediate relief from high gasoline prices, Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (D-20th) wrote to President Bush this month requesting that he direct the U.S. Department of Energy to draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by two and a half million barrels of oil per month over the next six months, while suspending purchases over the same period. "These two actions would keep more oil in the market and bring down fuel costs to save consumers money at the pump and provide desperately needed relief to our small businesses and farmers," Ms. Gillibrand says in the letter.

"Inaction could have disastrous, long-term effects on our nation's economy, and the American people's confidence in their government." Ms. Gillibrand has also co-sponsored legislation in the House of Representatives calling on the Energy Department to suspend purchases. She is also co-sponsor of a bill that would allow long-distance rural commuters a tax deduction when the local price of gasoline exceeds $3 per gallon, and another bill calling for an increase in corporate average fuel economy standards.