COPAKE—After more than two months behind bars, convicted felon and perennial scofflaw Salvatore Cascino is free and aggressively engaged in his favorite activity—dumping.
After all, he has 69 days to make up for and based on visual observation of passersby, he is dumping with a vengeance.
His latest activity is the filling in of federal wetlands along the east side of Route 22 in full public view and he is not letting a “cease and desist” order from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers slow him down.
Mr. Cascino, 76, of Larchmont, a Village in the Town of Mamaroneck, Westchester County, owns a 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22. He calls the place Copake Valley Farm and for the past 18 years, Mr. Cascino has been racking up violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating there.
Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of criminal and civil contempt February 25 and in addition to rectifying certain unlawful actions associated with structures and dumping on his property, paying fines and reimbursing Copake for legal fees, the judge ordered him to spend at least 60 days in the Columbia County Jail.
The ruling came in connection with two outstanding orders to show cause from early 2013 brought by the Town of Copake, which sought to have Mr. Cascino found in contempt for his failure to comply with numerous orders previously issued by the court.
Mr. Cascino was released May 4 and is supposed to be working on the removal of 9,650 cubic yards of illegally dumped solid waste from the property. He will have to prove to the judge that is happening during return court appearances June 6, July 18 and August 8.
In the meantime, Mr. Cascino is dumping something in the federal wetlands, an activity declared illegal when he started doing it last November.
In a letter dated April 5, Amy Gitchell, chief of the Upstate New York Section of the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Upstate Regulatory Field Office in Watervliet, tells Mr. Cascino representatives from her office have inspected his “project” and found that he is putting fill in “waters of the United States, including wetlands, without prior authorization from this office.” Ms. Gitchell writes that “such impacts” are “in violation of statutes and regulations within the jurisdiction” of her office, such as the Clean Water Act.
Her letter said that “you are Ordered to immediately Cease and Desist any further work in the waters of the United States.” The order applies to Mr. Cascino and everybody “involved in this unauthorized activity.”
Ms. Gitchell notes in the letter that Mr. Cascino was previously issued a Cease and Desist Order for similar activities at Copake Valley Farm December 8, 2008 and his attorney at the time, Dennis Schlenker, responded that Mr. Cascino would abide by the order.
The letter directs Mr. Cascino to complete a Summary of Information about why he did what he did and return it to the regulatory field office within 14 days of date on the letter.
“Failure to comply with the requirements of this order will result in further enforcement action by this office, including the possibility of substantial civil and criminal penalties. A copy of this order is being sent to the office of the U.S. Attorney and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
The letter concludes by asking Mr. Cascino to complete a Customer Service Survey, “in order for us to better serve you.”
The Columbia Paper contacted George Casey, a project manager with the regulatory field office, who was named in the letter as someone Mr. Cascino should call with questions.
Mr. Casey said Ms. Gitchell’s letter was sent to Mr. Cascino in Larchmont and Copake, and to his attorney, Brian Gardner in New York City. The Army has delivery cards bearing signatures acknowledging delivery of the letter April 13, 15 and 16.
Mr. Casey said there has been no response from Mr. Cascino or his lawyer as of May 17.
Mr. Casey also said that he was contacted by Copake Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski informing him of Mr. Cascino’s renewed dumping activity in the wetlands shortly after his release from jail on contempt charges. All of the information provided by Councilman Gansowski along with the lack of a response to the order has been forwarded to Mr. Casey’s supervisors. Mr. Casey is awaiting further instructions. The agency would prefer to negotiate with Mr. Cascino with the goal of getting him to restore the wetlands or obtain a permit, Mr. Casey said.
Copake Supervisor Jeff Nayer has also reached out to state Department of Environmental Conservation officials, the State Attorney General’s Office, the Army Corps of Engineers and others with photographs he and his wife took of excavating and dumping at the Cascino site last week.
Mr. Nayer said by phone he is asking for help from everyone he can think of.
In an email note to Patricia Evans at the DEC, Mr. Nayer wrote, “Mr. Cascino is continuing his course of disregard to all state and federal standards for dumping in a wetlands without permits.”
Noting Mr. Cascino’s long history of disregarding the law, Mr. Nayer wrote that someone from the DEC or the Army Corps “needs to go down there immediately to stop him and cite him for this.
“He has just been released from a jail term for contempt of court by Judge Nichols and continues to thumb his nose at the Town of Copake and your authorities. The Town of Copake has spent over $250,000 fighting this guy with little help from our state and federal government groups.”
On a related front, two newly formed citizen’s groups, the Saw Kill Watershed Community and the Roe Jan Watershed Association, are teaming up with the new Bard Water Lab and Riverkeeper to launch community science projects to monitor water quality in the region. At the May 12 Town Board meeting, Councilman Gansowski said he has volunteered to work with the groups to get samples from the Roe Jan and the Noster kills for testing to “see what’s in the water.”
Mr. Gansowski, who is a neighbor of Copake Valley Farm, said he is particularly interested to see the results for the Noster Kill, which is a protected trout stream that runs through the Cascino property, where Mr. Cascino has dumped unspecified materials.
Community scientists will take samples monthly from 15 locations in the Saw Kill and its tributaries, starting Friday, May 20, and from 14 locations in the Roe Jan and its tributaries, starting Saturday, May 21.
Neither requests by phone and email to the state Attorney General’s Office for an update on the DEC case against Mr. Cascino nor an email request for comment from Mr. Cascino’s attorney were answered by press deadline.
To contact Diane Valden email