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Unlicensed contractor profited from Coonskin timber

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - An unlicensed contractor owing more than $100,000 in back taxes was permitted to remove brush and trees from Coonskin Park over the last month without any written contract.

The contractor, Russell Trucking LLC, then sold the timber to a sawmill for $66,000, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said at a meeting Tuesday night.

"My question is what efforts were made to see if someone was licensed?" Carper said.

In May, the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission selected Russell Trucking, LLC to clear debris left over from last year's derecho. Previously, a different contractor had moved debris from roads, trails and shelters through a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, but that money did not pay for the debris removal.

Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson told the parks commission at its May meeting he could not find anyone to remove the debris for free, but a representative of Russell Trucking had approached him about the work. The company was to do the work at no charge to the parks department, and was allowed to keep the harvested timber.

The parks commission unanimously approved the agreement.

Russell Trucking's business license was revoked last December, according to the secretary of state's website. Although the company's logging license appeared to be valid, the revoked license meant it couldn't do business in the state.

Russell Trucking also owes state taxes and interest from as far back as 2007, when the company formed.

At the parks commission meeting in June, a park visitor, Margret Zaleski, remarked that she thought the contractor did a shoddy job and cut down more trees than necessary.

Zaleski attended the county commission meeting, and said she saw at least one logging truck that wasn't carrying any rotten trees. She said much of the damage was away from the road and can't be seen by simply driving by.

"What I saw horrified me," she said. "The logging roads were everywhere. I suggest you count the fresh stumps."

Hutchinson told commissioners he didn't know if trees were cut down beyond the scope of the work. He said he went through the park with the contractor to identify trees to be removed, but none of the trees were marked with paint or ribbon.

"We agreed on the trees he was going to cut," he said.

Russell Trucking did have a timbering license, Hutchinson said.

Carper said county policy is to make sure all work is bid out, that the contractor has valid insurance and is up to date on workers' compensation and tax payments. He said none of that happened. 

"The biggest problem is that none of this is in writing," Carper said.

Commissioner Dave Hardy questioned what would have occurred if an injury or accident occurred while the work was taking place, as the county could then be liable.

Russell Trucking also has agreed to repair a portion of the road near the picnic shelters that suffered damage during the work, Hutchinson has said.

He said he suggested Charleston-based Roy Young and Sons Paving for the job last week. He said the company had done work for the parks system in the past.

However, Carper said Roy Young and Sons hadn't been contacted until Monday about the work.

Commissioners decided to have Coonskin Park examined for freshly cut stumps to determine the extent of any damage.

In other business, the commissioners:

* Discussed timbering on county-owned property near Camp Virgil Tate. Leaders at the camp have proposed timbering the area to help raise money for a new pool. Part of the land is county-owned.

Commissioners will wait to make a decision until a written agreement is in place. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the courthouse.

* Transferred $50,000 in coal severance funds to the DEE Scholarship Fund, which helps Riverside High School seniors attend college. Hardy said the transfer is a good use of the funds because some of the money comes from coal mines in that area.

* Approved $1,000 for a new fence around the Shawnee Park pool. The current fence has fallen into disrepair and is weak enough that trespassers can break into the pool area. Commissioners also decided to spend up to $5,000 for a video surveillance system, similar to the one at the pool in East Bank.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.

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