COPAKE—Though it is a public road owned by the Town of Copake, Lackawanna has become a road less traveled since Salvatore Cascino took it upon himself to close it.
Mr. Cascino, 78, of Larchmont, Westchester County is a convicted felon who has spent the past 20 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building, paving and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm, along the east side of Route 22.
Less than a mile long, Lackawanna Road runs between Weed Mine Road on the east end and State Route 22 on the west. Mr. Cascino owns the land on both sides of the road.
Continued discussion about what is going on with Lackawanna Road, which has been closed for the past two months, was kicked off at the October 11 Copake Town Board meeting by the receipt of a letter from Mr. Cascino dated September 26.
The letter says that Copake Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory went to see Mr. Cascino and asked him how he “would feel about the town relinquishing its right of passage on Lackawanna Road and thereby its obligations for repairs and maintenance… This would make Lackawanna Road a completely private road…closed to the public and I would be responsible for all repairs and maintenance… I would be in favor of the idea and am willing to work with the town to see it through should you wish to do so.”
Supervisor Jeff Nayer opened the discussion by saying the letter did not accurately represent what was said during Mr. Gregory’s conversation with Mr. Cascino, noting, “This is not how it went down.”
In a phone call this week, Mr. Gregory told The Columbia Paper he went to Lackawanna Road in front of Mr. Cascino’s house to inspect and measure a 300-foot stretch where Mr. Cascino had paved over and filled in a drainage ditch. The pavement infringed three feet into the town’s right of way, Mr. Gregory said.
Mr. Cascino pulled up to see what was going on and Mr. Gregory told him his unauthorized paving work would cause water to wash out the road’s driving lane. Mr. Cascino then suggested to Mr. Gregory that the town should give him the road.
Mr. Gregory said he then spoke to the town supervisor about how to proceed with regard to the road drainage issue created by Mr. Cascino. At that time Mr. Gregory told Mr. Nayer about Mr. Cascino’s desire to take over the road. Mr. Gregory said he “would love to give away that road” because it is hard to maintain, it now has washout issues and the snow drifts across it.
Mr. Gregory along with Deputy Highway Superintendent Jeremy Holdridge went to see Mr. Cascino and told him if he was serious about taking over the road, he should write the Town Board a letter.
Town Attorney Ken Dow told the board at the October meeting that based on his research, “You can’t do it. Roads, parks and waterways are part of the public trust doctrine—you can’t sell them.” The attorney said the town can abandon a road as long as it is traveled by only two vehicles a day and the town hasn’t maintained it for two years. Even then, the road does not cease to be a public roadway, he said.
Mr. Nayer said the board needs to explore the matter further and will send letters to the fire company and rescue squad, along with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to find out what the impact would be.
Councilmember Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski, who lives on Weed Mine Road at the Lackawanna Road intersection, said he called DOT’s Columbia County Permit Engineer Joseph A. Visconti to find out when the road would reopen.
The town was under the impression that state DOT had closed to road to allow Mr. Cascino to fix a series of violations, actions he took without permission, some dating back nine years.
Mr. Gansowski said Mr. Visconti told him DOT never authorized the closure of the road. Mr. Cascino took it upon himself to block off and close the road, though he had no authority to do so.
The councilman said Mr. Visconti was waiting to hear back from Mr. Cascino’s engineer about his engineering plan before the final paving work was done.
In a subsequent phone call about 10 days later, Mr. Gansowski said despite numerous attempts to contact Mr. Cascino’s engineer, Mr. Visconti had received no return calls and had turned the matter over to the DOT’s legal department.
Mr. Gansowski, who traveled Lackawanna Road frequently before it was closed, said the road is well-used and people have been asking him about the road closure, including a UPS driver who travels the road to make deliveries.
Carol Gansowski and other area residents noted that the fire company and rescue squad face delays in getting to their homes in an emergency with the road closed. Councilmember Richard Wolf said the town should not even consider giving Mr. Cascino the road, noting “He does whatever he wants.” The town “should not do anything to benefit this individual.”
Area resident Roberta Roll told the board, “It’s outrageous that Cascino closed that road… He continues to do whatever he pleases. This is an important road and should remain a town road.”
Mr. Nayer asked Mr. Gregory what it would take to get the road opened again.
The highway boss said he figured it would take a couple of truckloads of gravel to fill in the 10-inch depression that runs the width of the road (about 22 feet wide) and 20 feet in length where it connects to Route 22. With material, use of the town’s loader, grader and rake, Mr. Gregory estimated the cost to be about $1,500.
The board then voted unanimously to have Mr. Dow send Mr. Cascino a letter advising him he has to complete repair of the road within a certain time limit or the town is going to do it and send him the bill.
As of Tuesday, October 16, Mr. Cascino’s contractors were busy paving the end of the road.
Mr. Gregory said by phone Wednesday morning that he had pushed the orange and white plastic drums that had blocked the road, out of the way along with the road closed sign. Yet a couple of hours later, Councilmember Gansowski reported the sign had been inexplicably moved back into the road, though cars could drive around it.
So is the road reopened? “Yes and no,” he said.
To contact Diane Valden email