Copake board, county Dems slam ‘farmer’ ruling

COPAKE—The outcry has intensified against the recent state Department of Agriculture and Markets opinion that waste hauler Salvatore Cascino’s activity at his 300-acre property qualifies as a type of farming.
     Mr. Cascino owns a Bronx-based waste-hauling business and has a 12-year history of violating town, state and federal laws on his Copake Valley Farm along the east side of Route 22. Witnesses recently testified under oath that they observed large trucks repeatedly dumping construction debris and what appeared to be trash on Mr. Cascino’s property in Copake.
     The department, often referred to as Ag and Markets, rendered an opinion March 11 that said Mr. Cascino was engaged in farming and, in effect, was not bound by town laws that would restrict his farming activities. The opinion was written in response to a request from Mr. Cascino filed by one of his attorneys.
     The lawyer, Anna Kirschner, represented Mr. Cascino during the Copake Planning Board’s six-month site plan review of his application to build several structures far larger than any others in the rural town. Mr. Cascino’s latest proposal includes a 24,900-square-foot “pack barn” for composting, twin 70-foot-high grain storage silos and an 18,500 square-foot run-in shed.
     The Planning Board unanimously rejected the proposal last November after planners received recommendations from the Columbia County Planning Board, the town Planning Board’s agricultural consulting firm and the board’s engineer, all of whom advised rejection of the plan as inconsistent with the law.
     Mr. Cascino subsequently filed a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Planning Board’s ruling.
     Ag and Markets called the town Planning Board’s reasons for rejecting the project “unreasonably restrictive,” opening the way for a possible reversal of the planners’ rejection.
     State Senator Stephen Saland (R-41st) and Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (R-103rd) expressed anger at the decision as soon as it was released. Both lawmakers immediately wrote to Governor David Paterson asking for his intervention on behalf of the people of Copake. And last week the Columbia County Democratic Committee and the Copake Town Board added their voices to a growing public outrage over the decision.
     The Town Board conducted a special meeting last Friday, March 27, during which Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley announced that he had also drafted a letter to Gov. Paterson echoing the sentiments of both the assemblyman and the senator.
     Mr. Crowley said that Ag and Markets had limited or no input from the town, and that the department needs to do a more comprehensive review of the facts. He also said the decision did not consider the town’s ongoing legal action against Mr. Cascino, who is facing civil charges in a case brought by the town in state Supreme Court.
     To accompany the supervisor’s letter, Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia introduced a resolution supporting the efforts of Senator Saland and Assemblyman Molinaro, and asking the governor to reverse the decision by Ag and Markets.
     In the resolution, the Town Board vowed to “continue its efforts both in court and at government levels to stop the illegal dumping activities and violations of town ordinances…by Salvatore Cascino.”
     Ms. Gabaccia called for a copy of the resolution to be sent to the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, with a request that the supervisors communicate their “displeasure over the decision” because it “constitutes a threat to the health and welfare of the citizens of the county.”
     Mr. Crowley said he had already contacted Board of Supervisors Chairman Art Baer (R-Hillsdale) about the situation. He also said the county attorney was asked “to determine what the county can and cannot do.”
    For the Board of Supervisors to consider a resolution in support of the town, it must receive a recommendation from the “home committee,” in this case the Environmental Management Council (EMC), Mr. Crowley said.
     Harvey Weber, the town’s representative to that council, did seek the council’s support at its March 23 meeting, Mr. Crowley said, but several council members wanted additional information.
     “The first step is getting a resolution from the EMC; then if they approve it, it goes on the Board of Supervisor’s agenda,” Mr. Crowley explained.
     At the County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting March 25, “a majority of the committee held that the [state] Department of Agriculture and Markets not be manipulated by operators who pose as agricultural enterprises to mask activities which damage the environment and effectively undermine the legitimate efforts of genuine hardworking farmers in our communities.”
     In addition to urging Governor Paterson to intervene on behalf of Copake and legitimate farming operations throughout the Hudson Valley, the committee’s resolution urged Ag and Markets to “reverse [its] opinion” and recognize that Mr. Cascino’s proposed structures “will not be used for farming.”
     Ms. Gabaccia, a member of the Democratic Committee, told fellow Democrats that “the heart of this issue is not allowing Ag and Markets’ power to protect our local farmers to be diluted by those who would attempt to skirt the law under the protective cloak of agriculture.”   

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