Sunday, July 27, 2008

Editorial: What's a dumper to do?

Editorial: What's a dumper to do?
PITY POOR SAL CASCINO. Look at all the people picking on him: a mean
ol' county judge, a grumpy state attorney general and the tree-huggers
at the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Even his
neighbors on the Copake Planning Board have it in for him. And all he
wants is to be left alone to raise his herd of dump trucks.

We've listened to sympathy expressed recently for Mr. Cascino and his
Copake Valley Farm operation along Route 22 in the Town of Copake. The
gist of it is that the guy has the right to do what he wants on his
300-acre property.

Fair enough. But let's say your next-door neighbors build an
amusement park, and one morning you wake up to the sound of a roller
coaster outside your bedroom window. That can't happen to you, because
your town has laws that limit where a person can put a roller coaster,
right? But what happens if your neighbor ignores the law?

Without obtaining a permit Mr. Cascino messed with the Noster
Kill, a protected trout stream that runs through his property,
changing it so much that the DEC ordered him to put it back the way it
was. Maybe Mr. Cascino thought that the rules didn't apply to him. He
blew off the concerns of environmental authorities until the Attorney
General's Office intervened and forced him to repair the damage he had
caused to a resource the public has an interest in preserving.

Does anybody really care about the fate of a few fish and
reptiles? Possibly not, but consider this: Mr. Cascino has dumped a
whole lot of what looks like construction and demolition debris on his
land, despite a town prohibition against dumping that kind of stuff.

In cities you often have to knock down an old building in order
to build a new one, and the debris from the demolition has to go
somewhere. The taxpayers in a town like Copake might benefit someday
from accepting this type of waste under carefully regulated
conditions. But right now the town does not allow the debris to be
spread over fields and dumped beside streams. Mr. Cascino has no more
right than any other citizen to ignore laws that don't suit him.

His activities grew so blatant that last year County Court Judge
Jonathan Nichols imposed a temporary restraining order that forbids
Mr. Cascino from doing any kind of construction or excavation at his
property. But the town believes some work continues at the site. It's
as if the judge's ruling meant nothing to Mr. Cascino. Neighbors have
photographed dump trucks driving up Route 22 and dropping their loads
at his Copake Valley Farm.

This county has good reason to fear unregulated dumping. There
is at least one lingering hazardous waste site here that was once used
for construction and demolition debris. According to at least one
expert, that waste was "cocktailed"--laced with toxic materials like
PCBs that would have been far more expensive to dispose of safely.

Now, after persistently flouting state and local regulations and
behaving as if he needn't obey a county judge, Mr. Cascino has the
gall to propose new construction at his site and to have his lawyer
resist calls by the town Planning Board to provide a comprehensive
plan showing the facilities he already has and all the new structures
he expects to build.

Mr. Cascino's behavior constitutes a threat that extends well
beyond the borders of Copake. The town has mounted a sophisticated
legal case in an attempt to force him to comply with the law. So far,
it hasn't worked. If he gets away with doing as he sees fit here, he
can do it anywhere.

In the past only the power of the state attorney general, Andrew
Cuomo, has deterred him. It's time for town and county officials to
call for a thorough investigation by the attorney general of Mr.
Cascino and his operations--not only in Copake but in the Bronx,
Dutchess County and anywhere else he does business.

In the meantime, the Planning Board should stick by its
requirement that Mr. Cascino provide one document that details all the
existing and proposed facilities on his property. Until he delivers
that data, the town should suspend its review of whatever he wants to
do next.

His agents portray him as just another beleaguered farmer, but
the people of Copake now know Sal Cascino better than that. He's a guy
who shows nothing but contempt for the community and its standards,
and for the law.