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

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