Old kerosene spill prompts Craryville cleanup pledge

COPAKE—A decade’s old kerosene spill has been found on the site of a controversial proposed gas station/convenience store in Craryville.

At the Copake Planning Board’s November 7 meeting, hydrogeologist Jean Patota reported that during the excavation of four test pits at the site of the GRJH, Inc., project, she detected soil with a petroleum odor and some petroleum-contaminated ground water.

Ms. Patota said she notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spill hotline according to state and federal Reporting Requirements for Petroleum Spills, Leaks and Discharges.

The site is on the northwest corner of the state Route 23, county Route 7 and Craryville Road four-way intersection, where GRJH proposes to build a new gas station/convenience store between the Craryville Post Office to the west and the Craryville United Methodist Church to the east. Craryville is a hamlet in the northwest part of the Town of Copake.

After seeing hard evidence that the site was a former vehicle repair garage and gas station a couple of months ago, Planning Board Chair Bob Haight asked the applicant to do soil testing at the site now. GRJH’s usual practice would be to take soil samples during the construction process, but the applicant agreed to test now and hired Ms. Patota to do it in September.

Last March, a ground penetrating radar study of the site was performed, revealing no underground tanks there.

Ms. Patota also told the board that analysis of the soil in three pits detected petroleum compounds that meet DEC standards for the concentration of contamination allowable for “soil left in place.” Testing identified the petroleum in question as kerosene and Ms. Patota estimated the spill to be 40 to 50 years old.

Prior to the soil tests, Ms. Patota noted that during a site visit she had seen the hydraulic lift used by the garage. She photographed the empty hydraulic cylinder in the ground and advised the applicant of the need to remove the lift and excavate under the building. “There was never any question that subsurface work would be conducted,” she said.

Though the spill has not been decisively delineated yet, Mr. Haight characterized it in a follow-up phone call as “a small spill on one corner of the property.

“This will not stop the project,” he said.

GRJH President Alicia Metz told the board that once Ms. Patota makes her preliminary report to DEC, that agency will make recommendations about the clean-up. The contaminated soil will be removed and the site remediated in conjunction with the new project.

“Legacy” spills as these long-ago leaks are called, did not travel far enough to affect neighboring properties because they stabilize quickly in the first couple of years and do not continue to migrate, according to Ms. Patota, who said she will recommend to the Department of Health that it test the water of any neighbor who wants it done.

Ms. Patota spent time at the beginning of her statements recounting her actions with regard to the project in a timeline and defending her reputation. She maintained that opponents of the project had “mischaracterized” her statements and “deceived the public.”

Tim Rode, an attorney representing Save Craryville, the grassroots coalition opposing the project, addressed his client’s concerns about groundwater contamination and deficiencies in the applicant’s Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan.

To contact Diane Valden email

SIDE BAR

He says it’s a farm, but…

AT ITS NOVEMBER 7 SESSION the Planning Board took up another matter that evening, this one regarding the ongoing site plan reviews of two projects proposed by Salvatore Cascino, d/b/a, 13 Lackawanna Properties, David Weiner appeared representing Mr. Cascino.

Chairman Haight asked Mr. Weiner if he had brought any further evidence/documentation of Mr. Cascino’s alleged “farm operation known as Copake Valley Farm.”

Mr. Cascino, 79, of Larchmont, Westchester County is a convicted felon who has spent the past 21 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating on his 300-acre Copake property.

He now seeks site plan approval from the Planning Board for existing buildings he has built without permission, and approval of three new structures that will yield 64,200 square feet of enclosed or semi-enclosed space— according to a proposed operating plan submitted by Mr. Wiener, who appeared before the board in March, April and May.

At each appearance the board sought documentation of Mr. Cascino’s alleged farming operation in the form of receipts for labor, supplies, equipment, animal feed or vet bills, sale of crops and/or livestock. Over all those months, Mr. Weiner questioned what he was being asked to produce and never provided the board with the documentation to the degree it requested.

Sparse receipts dating back several years failed to provide the board with needed insight into Mr. Cascino’s “agricultural activities.” At the May meeting, Chairman Haight said he would give Mr. Weiner one final chance to produce the documents.

When Mr. Weiner appeared November 7, which was the first time he had returned since May, he told Mr. Haight he had not brought any additional information with him.

Since May the Planning Board received two letters, one in June, the other in September, from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The first one said Mr. Cascino had contacted the agency to review Copake’s Zoning Code and its administration by the Planning Board. The agency was attempting to decide “whether a local law unreasonably restricts a farm operation within an agricultural district.”

Town Attorney Ken Dow responded with a four-page letter detailing Mr. Cascino’s history of illegal deeds, criminal contempt, incarceration, litigation and appeals involving town, state and federal agencies to illustrate “many of the reasons why Mr. Cascino’s claims to be engaging in a farm operation may not be reliable.” He noted that Mr. Cascino had appealed to state Ag and Markets before to be recognized as a farm operation. The outcome, after a firestorm of opposition from state and local leaders, was a May 2009 letter from then Commissioner Patrick Hooker to the town stating, “I have concluded that it would be premature to move forward with the department’s AML (Ag and Markets Law) 305a- review at this time.”

“Mr. Cascino’s clearest connection to agriculture has been to contaminate the lands of Copake Valley Farm by dumping and mixing into the farmland soils tens of thousands of cubic yards of illegal ground-up waste and further despoiling the farmlands by dumping over 150,000 cubic yards of ‘dead dirt’ on the farm land—soils that ultimately had to be removed to waste dumps. It would be quite a mockery of the Agriculture and Markets Law if it were to be invoked to facilitate further such despoilment and lawbreaking by adopting a guise of agricultural activities,” Mr. Dow said in his letter.

Despite the attorney’s correspondence, Ag and Markets Director Michael Latham wrote in a September 5 letter that Dr. Robert Somers, manager of the department’s Farmland Protection Unit, had conducted a July 23 site investigation of Copake Valley Farm and “concluded that the agricultural activities and structures observed by department staff were in an amount and scope consistent with a crop and livestock operation of this size; are part of a farm operation, and the activity is protected under AML.”

Mr. Haight told Mr. Weiner at the November meeting that he was in the process of trying to set up a meeting with someone from Ag and Markets so he could find out how the agency arrived at its conclusions about Mr. Cascino’s operation.

“As soon as that happens, I’ll let you know,” the chair told Mr. Weiner.

In a follow up phone call, Mr. Haight told The Columbia Paper that Mr. Cascino had refused to allow the Planning Board permission for a site visit as part of its review. –Diane Valden

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