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Cascino claims ignorance on need for permits


HUDSON—Salvatore Cascino is a registered hauler of solid waste, but the only solid waste he ever hauls is leaves—never garbage.
     Mr. Cascino testified to that among other things when he took the stand Wednesday, March 11, during his ongoing civil trial in state Supreme Court at the Columbia County Courthouse.
     The case, being heard by Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols, stems from allegations by the Town of Copake that Mr. Cascino violated town codes by building and dumping illegally on his 300-acre property called Copake Valley Farm.
     This was the third day of the trial that started February 25 and heard continuing testimony February 26.
     Mr. Cascino, a resident of Larchmont in Westchester County, also owns and operates a Bronx-based waste-hauling business, called Bronx County Recycling. In addition he has a construction company and multiple commercial and residential real estate holdings in the Bronx, Westchester County and Manhattan, according to his testimony Wednesday.
     In Columbia County he has a 12-year history of violations of Copake town codes and state environmental laws involving activities on his property along the east side of Route 22.
     Under questioning by Victor Meyers of the law firm representing Copake, Mr. Cascino said his Bronx facility takes in dirt, rock and concrete from building and sewer excavation sites, screens the materials and makes them into “four road products.” He said contractors pay him to take in the materials, then after processing he sells the materials back to the contractors and other buyers.
     Mr. Cascino said he is at his Bronx County Recycling office from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. 6 days a week, but on Sundays, he said, “ I try to be a farmer.”
     During questioning about his purchase of the Copake property from the Duksa family in 1997 and Mr. Cascino’s subsequent activities there, Mr. Meyers established that Mr. Cascino understood the necessity of, and procedure for, requesting permits from the town.
     In fact, Mr. Cascino applied for and received at least two permits to demolish buildings on the property and one permit to build a multi-bay brick garage for the storage of farm equipment on Lackawanna Road. Yet when he failed to apply for permits for other activities, including:
∙extensive renovations on an existing farm stand
∙hauling hundreds of thousands of yards of material from the Bronx and dumping the loads on his Copake property,
∙building a 10-foot-high stone and concrete wall
∙digging 3 trenches, each 120 feet long and 3 feet deep
∙installing concrete footings
∙raising and widening an access road across the southern end of the property
∙constructing a 30-foot-wide steel bridge through the wetland and over the Noster Kill, a state protected trout stream.
     Asked whether he applied for a permit for these activities, Mr. Cascino’s response in each instance was: “I didn’t know I needed a permit.”
     Mr. Cascino admitted to having his crews truck in thousands of yards of “item 4,” defined as crushed concrete, to the Copake property, where he said it was deposited as a base for a barn he intended to build and as a base for the road he did build.
     Though he had no permits for building or dumping, Mr. Cascino testified that concrete blocks, septic and drainage tanks, joists and other construction materials were stockpiled behind the farm stand for eventual use in the building of a barn and a “walk-in” shed for cattle.
     His crews also hauled in leaves, wood pallets and stumps, which Mr. Cascino ground up as part of his composting operation.
     Under cross-examination by his attorney Dennis Schlenker, Mr. Cascino said he bought the Copake property because “I wanted to have a small farm—grow hay and a few cattle.”
     Mr. Cascino said he would not have purchased the farm if he had not received a ruling from the town Zoning Board of Appeals in November 1997 that composting is considered a permitted agricultural use at the site.
     After he bought the place, Mr. Cascino said he leased the land to area farmers to plant corn and hay crops. They had the soil tested and found that it needed fertilizer. So in addition to the manure the farmers applied to the soil, Mr. Cascino said he ground up leaves, branches and other pieces of wood into compost and “introduced them to the ground to make the ground fertile.”
     Asked by Mr. Schlenker to explain how bags of garbage got on his property, Mr. Cascino said that people must have mixed the garbage in with their leaves in Westchester and that when workers found the garbage in Copake, they separated it out before the grinding process.
     Later, when Mr. Meyers asked Mr. Cascino how the “plastic, glass and assorted inorganic materials” photographed by DEC Biologist Nancy Heaslip got on the property, Mr. Cascino answered, “I have no idea.”
     Mr. Schlenker later introduced documents that he said supported Mr. Cascino’s contention that he made efforts to follow permit requirements and carry on a farm operation.
     Mr. Schlenker said that despite the town’s allegations that his client was making improper use of the brick garage to store and repair trucks associated with his Bronx waste hauling business, no town official ever ordered him to stop. Mr. Cascino said that he used the trucks to haul corn.
     The same held true for stockpiled construction materials, Mr. Schlenker said. Until the town’s lawsuit alleging violations of town code was filed, no town official had ever ordered Mr. Cascino to remove them, he said.
     Mr. Schlenker said that because Mr. Cascino did not intend to change farm stand’s pre-existing use, he did not need a building permit to renovate it.
     Mr. Schlenker also presented Mr. Cascino’s 2003 application to the town Planning Board for a 45,000-square-foot barn. The application was not acted upon because a townwide moratorium on commercial building was in place at the time.
     Except for several breaks, Mr. Cascino remained on the stand from about 9:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m.
     Often the testimony seemed to be a rehash of Mr. Cascino’s November 2008 court appearance, when he answered the town’s complaint that he had violated a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Nichols two years earlier. The order directed Mr. Cascino to stop all construction, excavation and dumping on the property. Judge Nichols has not yet ruled on that matter.
     The trial resumes March 25 at 1 p.m.

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