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Contractor under fire is told to remediate timbered park areas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Areas of Coonskin Park that may have been illegally timbered are being remediated -- under the supervision of the West Virginia Division of Forestry -- by the contractor who did the work.

The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission learned of the plan Wednesday.

The supervising state agency also has suspended Russell Trucking LLC's timbering license until work is complete.

"He has his license suspended until he meets my requirements," said Jeremy Jones, a state forestry specialist.

Jones said he is holding Russell Trucking above the best management practices standards by the state because the damaged area is public property.

In May, the Charleston-based Russell Trucking, owned by David Bowen, was chosen by the parks commission to clean up and remove debris from last year's derecho -- work that wasn't covered by federal grants. The contractor was to perform the work for free and was allowed to keep the timber it gathered during the cleanup.

There was no written agreement for the job, but Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said that he toured the park with a representative of Russell Trucking to identify damaged trees and areas of debris. However, none of the trees were marked in any way.

"The trees were obvious," Hutchinson told the commission at its meeting yesterday. "He knew what he was to get and what he wasn't."

After work began, a frequent park visitor, Margaret Zaleski, called the work into question and said she believed Russell Trucking took more trees than was necessary. She also pointed out that the company damaged the road in the picnic shelter loop and created paths and logging roads in forested areas of the park.

But the work Russell Trucking performed wasn't the only problem. The contractor wasn't even allowed to conduct business in West Virginia after its business license was suspended in December 2012, and the company also owed more than $100,000 in back taxes.

Parks officials have said they weren't aware of the contractor's issues.

Russell Trucking sold the timber taken from the park for as much as $66,000. Parks Commission Attorney Chuck Bailey told the parks commission that such action is classified at "unlawful conversion of public property."

Bailey told the board that Russell Trucking "deviated from (its) permit" for the work. He said that records from the Division of Forestry showed that the company was not allowed to create any new roads or paths, nor was it permitted to remove any other trees. The company did have a valid timbering license and valid insurance, he said.

"The only authorization given to him was to do the cleanup," he said.

Bailey and Parks Commission President Anna Dailey said that a lawsuit against Russell Trucking was still a possibility, but that they wanted to wait to decide until after the remediation work is finished.

"He might come clean and write us a check and we all walk away," Bailey said.

Retired Adj. Gen. Allen Tackett, who is a member of the parks commission, said he was embarrassed about the situation, and said everyone on the parks commission should be embarrassed, too.

"We have to demand things are done properly," he said. "There has to be some sort of supervision."

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

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