COPAKE—It may be the dead of winter, but frost or no frost Salvatore Cascino is busy digging.
All the excavation is happening on the 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22 just south of the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet. Mr. Cascino is finally getting around to undoing some of the bad deeds he did in the past.
Mr. Cascino, 82, is a convicted felon who has spent a great deal of time over over the past 23 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm.
Both the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have cited Mr. Cascino for violations involving the dumping of solid waste and other unauthorized materials in and along the Noster Kill, and associated protected wetlands dating back to March 1999.
The Noster Kill is a state-protected trout stream that runs through his property.
During a 2009 trial related to a lawsuit filed by the Town of Copake, Acting Supreme Court Judge Jonathan D. Nichols ordered Mr. Cascino to remove the 30-foot-wide steel bridge he illegally constructed over the Noster Kill.
It’s not known exactly why Mr. Cascino has been inspired to do all this dismantling, remediation and restoration work now, but Copake Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski may have had something to do with it.
Mr. Gansowski has been reporting to the Town Board over the past two months on his progress in seeing to it that authorities enforce everything Mr. Cascino has been ordered to do.
Mr. Gansowski has called everyone he can think of from Congressman Antonio Delgado (D-19th) to DEC and Army Corps of Engineers officials as well as his friends at Trout Unlimited to get and keep the enforcement action moving. Mr. Gansowski is a neighbor of Mr. Cascino’s and has been witness to Mr. Cascino’s activities since he bought the place in November 1997.
Mr. Gansowski told The Columbia Paper in a phone interview this week that Mr. Cascino had to come up with a plan for removal of all of the illegally dumped materials as well as dismantling the bridge and restoration of both the stream and the wetlands back to the way he found them.
A December 30, 2021 letter to Mr. Cascino from Amy L. Gitchell, chief, Upstate New York Section of the Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says that a plan has been approved that “addressed 3 specific violations on your property located on the east side of State Route 22” in Copake.
One site is along the southern border of the Copake Valley Farm property where “an unauthorized and undersized bridge, unauthorized fill and footers had been placed in the Noster Kill and the adjacent riparian wetlands. The remediation plan consists of the removal of the fill placed in the wetlands for the road, the removal of the bridge over the Noster Kill, and the removal of the wing walls, abutments and riprap associated with the bridge.” The materials removed will be disposed of on the Cascino property in an approved upland area.
Though the bridge is now removed, the stream is not the same, lamented Mr. Gansowski, noting that a once substantial fishing hole is no longer as deep and most of the trees along stream have been cut down by Mr. Cascino, removing whatever shade there was for keeping the fish cool.
Another remediation site is north of Lackawanna Road and east of State Route 22, north of the internal gravel farm road where Mr. Cascino was building a long berm with construction debris in October 2015. The land is listed on the national wetlands inventory and Mr. Cascino dumped piles upon piles of bricks, concrete and pipes before periodically covering it with top soil.
The plan includes the removal of all fill material from an area approximately 750 feet in length and ranging from 60 to 200 feet in width. The removed debris will be dumped in an approved upland area of the property.
Additionally, in both locations Mr. Cascino will be required to plant a specified Northeast Wetland Diversity Seed Mix at a rate of 15 to 20 lbs/acre and hundreds of wetland trees and shrubs including red maple (Acer rubrum), pin oak (Quercus palustris), swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor), pussy willow (Salix discolor), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and Bankers dwarf willow (Salix cotteti). Specific numbers of each kind of tree and shrub are listed in the plan.
Mr. Cascino also has to ensure that all proposed wetland establishment/restoration plantings have an 85% survival rate and all established/restored wetland areas in conjunction with the plan have an 85% coverage rate of hydrophytic plants.
The deadline for all this grading, planting and seeding in conjunction with the wetland restoration/reestablishment is July 1. Also, within 30 days of the completion of the grading, he has to install two groundwater monitoring wells within each of the wetland restoration/re-establishment areas (total of 4) and submit an as-built drawing and photographs of the site to the Upstate New York Section of the New York District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He has to submit reports and photographs on the status of the restored/re-established wetlands; wetland delineation data sheets; drawings; well and staff gauge data showing water elevations within the restored wetlands recorded twice a month during April through September of each year along with written descriptions of conditions within the wetland restoration areas, including quantitative and qualitative data and observed usage by fish and wildlife indicating whether the functions proposed, as stated in the above referenced report, are being achieved. All this is for three consecutive years.
If Mr. Cascino does all that, the Army Corps of Engineers will “consider the Cease and Desist Orders dated December 19, 2008, and April 5, 2016, rescinded for the wetland restoration work.” If not, Mr. Cascino will face additional enforcement action by the office.
According to the DEC: “Mr. Cascino is subject to DEC enforcement action following repeated environmental violations. In addition to the assessment of a $25,500 penalty, Mr. Cascino remains legally required by DEC order to implement a comprehensive wetlands restoration project at the site to address several years’ of unpermitted filling and excavation of regulated wetlands and unpermitted clearcutting of wetlands vegetation. The restoration project entails creation of new wetland areas, stream enhancement, and monitoring to ensure survival of plantings. DEC and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers continue to jointly monitor the work to ensure compliance with the order. DEC will ensure complete restoration and satisfaction of all applicable requirements.”
Commenting on Mr. Cascino’s recent activity, Michael Sussman, Esq., Mr. Cascino’s attorney for the past three years, said by email: “Mr. Cascino is committed to complying with the law and beautifying and well utilizing his farm. He is also dedicated to its providing wholesome produce that can be marketed and benefit the community. He is exploring ways of developing the property towards these objectives and will utilize lawful procedures provides (sic) to submit and subject his plans to review.”
In a subsequent phone conversation, Mr. Sussman told The Columbia Paper Tuesday, Mr. Cascino plans to grow his produce in greenhouses that are “taking shape” on his property and that he has purchased an eight-acre parcel north of his existing property which he will use in a productive way.
Mr. Sussman said Mr. Cascino is “fully committed to using his resources to make his farm beautiful and productive so his children and grandchildren can continue that legacy.”
To contact Diane Valden email