EDITORIAL: Is this too much to ask?

DON’T TRUST ANYONE who predicts the future. Even if there were people with the gift/curse of seeing clearly what’s ahead, they’d only tell you about what they think is important, like the winning lottery ticket you’ll lose in the wash, while neglecting to mention the invasion of the extraterrestrial zombies. Or vice versa.

Instead, consider–skeptically–the thoughts of those who admit that the year ahead will likely see variation on stuff we already know about. The trick is to identify what’s worth hoping for and try to make it happen. Take the case of Sal Cascino in the Town of Copake.

Over the last few weeks Mr. Cascino has appeared before acting state Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols, who must determine whether to hold Mr. Cascino in contempt for his numerous violations of the judge’s orders. Readers may be familiar with Mr. Cascino’s apparent disdain for any rules that affect what he does on his property; he builds structures without permits and dumps huge amounts of waste that the state Department of Environmental Conservation has determined are contaminated. He has, according to the record, polluted many acres of what was once productive farmland along a recognized trout stream.

There’s an echo here of another toxic problem affecting the county, the Dewey Loeffel landfill near the village of Nassau in neighboring Rensselaer County. In that case, GE and another company are paying for a belated effort to clean up thousands of tons of life-threatening chemicals buried there. This latest cleanup happened after decades of delays and measures that failed to staunch leaks from a cauldron of industrial waste. Unfortunately, poisons long ago seeped off the site and down the Valatie Kill into Kinderhook Lake, where the state now warns that children and women of childbearing age should not eat the fish.

If the fish are too toxic to eat, you have to wonder why state and federal agencies have so far declined to monitor the health of the people who live near the landfill and along the Valatie Kill. So it was heartening earlier this month to see elected officials, including Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th), state Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) and Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-107th) joining their constituents in calling for long-term, local health impact studies.

Mr. Cascino’s dumping has not been proved to contain the types or concentrations of harmful materials found around the Dewey Loeffel site. But GE and the other firms that dumped at Dewey Loeffel made no attempt to disguise what they were doing–it was legal at the time. The materials that Mr. Cascino has dumped on his land have been pulverized so that state inspectors cannot determine what’s there other than it’s not the innocuous dirt Mr. Cascino claims it is.

Does that mean the people of Copake, especially those living downstream of his illegal dumping operation, must wait until they’re warned not to eat the fish before his dumping is stopped? Will they, too, be forced to plead with government agencies to track whether what’s he’s dumped for years is affecting their health and that of their children and grandchildren?

Mr. Cascino has rights like every other citizen, and Judge Nichols, a thoughtful jurist, has gone to great lengths to assure that his defense has been considered. If his past behavior is any guide, Mr. Cascino, who ignores the law when it serves his purposes, will try to use the legal process to delay a reckoning while he continues to dump truckloads of contaminated material on his land in open defiance of the judge’s rulings.

I can’t predict what Judge Nichols will do, but I can hope he will find Mr. Cascino in contempt of court in all respects related to his property in Copake. Then I hope he will send him to jail until such time as he remedies not some but all the violations he has committed there since the judge first heard this case five years ago. Otherwise, how can anyone believe in the rule of law?

I also hope the judge will find ways to assure that Mr. Cascino repays the town for the costs of trying to make him obey the law like everybody else. And assuming Mr. Cascino will attempt to game the system yet again, I urge the judge to appoint a qualified person with authority over Mr. Casino’s finances, so the work gets done and the bills get paid.

Happy New Year, Copake. Mr. Cascino, not so much.

Comments are closed.