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Parks officials to consider lawsuit against Coonskin Park logger

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission will consider filing a civil lawsuit against Russell Trucking and its owner, David Bowen, at their next meeting.

Commission President Anna Dailey requested the matter be put on the November agenda during the commission's regular monthly meeting Thursday morning.

"We've waited long enough," she said.

Parks commission legal counsel Chuck Bailey was out of town Thursday and did not attend the meeting.

Early in the summer, Russell Trucking pulled 337 trees out of Coonskin Park's shelter area and damaged 23 others, after being authorized to cut just 30. The removed trees are worth an estimated $100,000.

Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said he has been in contact with Bowen concerning the remediation work, and said he's told Bowen "the board expected everything to be healed."

Dailey said the commission should consider filing a civil suit unless it would interfere with law enforcement investigations.

If filed, the suit would be the latest chapter in the Coonskin Park timbering saga.

At the parks commission's May meeting, the board allowed an unnamed contractor to remove debris from the 2012 derecho for free, providing the company could keep the debris. There was no written contract and the trees designated for cutting weren't marked in any way.

A park visitor later 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.

It was later discovered Russell Trucking's state business license was revoked in late 2012 and the company owed more than $100,000 in taxes.

Kanawha County commissioners began their own investigation in July, and Commission President Kent Carper said his office found that some of the lumber was sold to a sawmill for $66,000.

In August, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department began a criminal investigation. No charges have yet been filed in connection with that investigation.

The West Virginia Division of Forestry also conducted a stump survey at Coonskin Park to determine how many trees had been cut. The Daily Mail obtained the results of the survey in September through an open records request.

In the meantime, Bowen has been ordered to conduct remediation work at the park, including re-seeding damaged areas and repairing roads damaged by the company's trucks. Some paving around the shelter loop has already been finished.

The commission took no other action on the matter.

In other business, the commission heard an update on damaged turf at the Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium at Coonskin Park. The turf was manufactured by FieldTurf, a division of Tarkett Sports, and installed just six years ago, but is starting to fall apart.

Premature failures of similar fields around the country have also been reported, including at professional and collegiate fields.

Hutchinson said the repairs will be covered by the turf's warranty, and he has been in contact with the company, which is sending a representative to evaluate the situation.

"They have the best warranty in the business," he said.

Parks Commission member Lucie Mellert said Betty Schoenbaum, who helped fund the stadium, was "pleased with the action that's being taken."

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


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