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Police looking into damage at Coonskin Park

Nearly two months after an unlicensed company was allowed to clear debris from Coonskin Park without a written contract, much of the damage it caused has yet to be repaired.

But even once the piles of felled trees are cleared and the pothole-ridden road around the shelter areas is repaired, the matter won't be entirely closed.

The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department has opened an investigation into the work Russell Trucking performed in June. 

Investigators have requested the assistance of the state Division of Forestry to analyze the stumps of cut trees to determine the size, type and location of trees that were cut down. Division of Forestry personnel inspected the damage last week.

"We want to make sure we account for all the trees at Coonskin," Kanawha Cpl. Brian Humphreys said.

No criminal charges have been filed, but Humphreys said the investigation should help reveal if any criminal activity occurred.

"It's going to take awhile," he said.

In June, park officials selected Russell Trucking, owned by David Bowen, to clear debris left from last year's derecho. The agreement, which was never in writing, was that Russell Trucking would perform the work for free and be allowed to keep the timber it removed.

Shortly after, a park visitor raised concerns that Russell Trucking did more than remove debris - it cut down healthy trees, too. In addition, Russell Trucking's heavy equipment tore up part of the loop road through the shelter area and created paths similar to logging roads through the forest.

In addition, it was later discovered Russell Trucking's state business license was revoked late last year and the company owed more than $100,000 in taxes.

After some investigating, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said he found the company sold the timber it took from the park for as much as $66,000.

Carper was growing frustrated with the pace of the work.

"Maybe we should have a contest to name the potholes," he said in a phone interview.

At a county commission meeting last month, Hutchinson said he walked through the forest with the contractor to identify the trees to be cut, but none were marked. That made it difficult  after the fact to tell which trees were cut.

Though some areas have been re-seeded with grass, felled trees and wood debris are still apparent in the shelter area, and the road around Shelters 6-20 is full of potholes, some several inches deep and feet wide.

Hutchinson said the state forester overseeing the remediation work has released Russell Trucking from that part of the job. In addition, paving to repair the road around the shelter area is tentatively scheduled sometime between Aug. 19 and 21, he said.

The Division of Forestry forced Russell Trucking to mitigate the effects of company's actions over the last month. Some debris was cleaned up during that time.

Russell Trucking is also supposed to pay for the road repair.

"The roads have to be fixed one way or the other," Carper said.

Parks officials have said they are considering legal action against the company, but will wait until the remediation work is finished before making a decision.

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


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