Says he’s a ‘farmer’ and can do what he wants
COPAKE–Salvatore Cascino doesn’t like the way he is being treated by the Town of Copake, so he’s going to do what he wants, and he said so in a letter read aloud at the May 10 Town Board meeting.
Mr. Cascino, 72, a resident of Larchmont, owns 300 acres along the east side of Route 22 from about the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet south to County Route 3. He named the place Copake Valley Farm and for the past 15 years has racked up violations of federal, state and town laws there related to everything from illegal dumping in a protected trout stream to building and excavating without securing proper permits. Mr. Cascino is also the owner of Bronx County Recycling, a downstate waste-hauling business.
In a related development also on May 10, the State Supreme Court Appellate Division rejected Mr. Cascino’s claim that he could not be tried by the state attorney general in Albany County Court on felony charges related to making false reports to the Department of Environmental Conservation about unauthorized solid waste received at his recycling facility.
At the Town Board meeting, David Wiener, who identified himself as “a consultant to Mr. Cascino,” read the letter from Mr. Cascino into the record. In the letter, Mr. Cascino states that he has a herd of 30 black angus cattle and grows hundreds of acres of corn and hay, yet the town does not consider his property at 13 Lackawanna Road a farm, nor does it consider him a farmer. “I have been denied permits for the simplest of barns, silos and feeding sheds” and faced “relentless opposition… against my ongoing development and use of the farm,” he wrote.
The Town Planning Board denied Mr. Cascino’s application to build multiple massive structures, including two 70-foot-high silos, a 24,000 square foot composting barn, a 10,089 square foot addition to an existing barn and a 18,500 square-foot run-in shed. The site plan was unanimously rejected by the Town Planning Board in November 2008, a decision that was upheld in state Supreme Court in June 2010 after Mr. Cascino filed a lawsuit to overturn it.
In his version of the history of his interactions with the town, Mr. Cascino paints himself as a victim of “harassment” and “speculative theories” about “zoning violations, illegal dumping and contamination.” But the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has found that Mr. Cascino did dump solid waste in a protected trout stream and wetlands on the property and illegally constructed a bridge over the Noster Kill without permits. The DEC also found “elevated levels of friable asbestos” on the Cascino property in September 2009.
The Cascino letter says the town has spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on attorneys’ fees “to try to deny me the right to build this into the 21st century farm that I envision and what have you accomplished aside from a tax increase to cover the bill?” The town has invested substantial funds in seeing to it that Mr. Cascino is forced to abide by the laws he violated. In one of many decisions rendered in Cascino matters, Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols ruled that Mr. Cascino must reimburse the town more than $20,000 in attorney fees spent defending itself against Mr. Cascino in court. But Mr. Cascino has reneged on an agreement to pay the town what he owes.
Mr. Cascino wrote that the town and its attorneys continue to claim “that I am not a real farmer but just a huckster and fraud from the Bronx and this [is] not a farm but a front for a commercial enterprise and possibly a toxic waste dump.” Denying those claims, Mr. Cascino said he has learned a great deal from the farmers who leased his property when he initially bought it. He said he makes “all the agricultural decisions on my farm” and that he buys all the supplies and sells everything produced.
“I am a farmer, my property is a farm and I expect to be treated with the same rights as any other farmer in town,” he wrote. As to whether Mr. Cascino’s operation at 13 Lackawanna Road is a farm, former state Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Jerry Cosgrove wrote in June 2009 that due to all the legal matters pending with regard to Mr. Cascino “it would be premature to move forward with a department review at this time.”
Mr. Cascino is currently appealing Acting Supreme Court Judge Nichols’ November 2010 decision in favor of the town, which permanently forbids Mr. Cascino from dumping any solid waste on the property; operating any commercial or industrial enterprise, including commercial composting, construction or excavation without permits; using a garage on the property for maintenance, repair and storage of trucks, tractor trailers and other equipment used in his waste-hauling/recycling business.
Because the case “will wind its way through the courts for some time to come,” according to Mr. Cascino, “I will be moving forward with my day-to-day farming and agricultural plan. Even the judgment in its current raw form says that I can farm and get whatever permits I need.” Mr. Cascino said he finds it disturbing that he has been told by the building inspector and the town supervisor that they were instructed by Victor Meyers, the town attorney on Cascino matters, not to issue him any permits because of ongoing litigation.
Mr. Meyers told The Columbia Paper Wednesday, “The town has never tried to stop Mr. Cascino from growing crops or raising animals. Just because Mr. Cascino says or thinks he’s a farmer doesn’t make him exempt from Town Law.”
Building Inspector Ralph Shadic said in a phone interview Wednesday morning that Mr. Cascino had recently been issued a permit to construct several cement block bins near the former farmstand along Route 22. Other than that, Mr. Shadic said he has not seen any application or plans for any farm-related buildings.
Mr. Shadic said it is possible that new Cascino building plans may have gone directly to the Planning Board if they were of such a size and scope to require Planning Board site plan approval. Neither the Planning Board chair nor the secretary could be reached to answer that question by press deadline.
In closing his letter, Mr. Cascino asks the Town Board if it considers his 13 Lackawanna Road property a farm, a question he has asked before and one that Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer answered in an April 20 letter to Mr. Cascino: “…it is not the function of the Town Board to make these types of determinations for properties within our Town.”
With regard to the indictment filed by then Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, on three counts of first degree offering a false instrument for filing, the appellate court rejected Mr. Cascino’s motion to dismiss the charges based on double jeopardy and “collateral estoppel,” which means that the because an issue is resolved in one case, that issue is prevented from being litigated in another case.
The case was being heard in Albany County Court but was put on hold while Mr. Cascino argued for dismissal on the grounds that the indictment arose from “the same criminal transaction for which he was tried in Columbia County.” In the Columbia County case, one misdemeanor charge of operating an unpermitted landfill was dismissed and a jury acquitted Mr. Cascino of a misdemeanor charge of fourth degree endangering the public health, safety or environment. The case focused on alleged dumping of materials from Bronx County Recycling on an eight-acre property along Route 9G in Clermont between December 2007 and July 2009.
In the Albany County Court matter, Mr. Cascino allegedly filed false reports about unauthorized materials he received at his Bronx recycling facility.
The criminal prosecution case in Albany County can proceed, according to a spokesperson from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office.