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Carper blasts parks director

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- County parks officials should have done their homework before allowing a contractor to remove trees and debris from Coonskin Park, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper blasted at a public meeting on Tuesday.

For about an hour, Carper lambasted County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson over a deal parks officials made with Russell Trucking LLC to remove debris and trees left over from last year's devastating derecho storm from the upper part of Coonskin Park.

The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission approved the deal, under which Russell Trucking agreed to cut down some storm-damaged trees, haul off trees that had already been cut down and pave parts of the road in the upper part of the park in exchange for any timber the contractor could sell. No money changed hands, and there was no written contract.

However, it turned out that state officials revoked Russell Trucking's business license in 2012, and the company owed more than $89,000 in Worker's Compensation premiums and more than $23,000 in timber severance taxes. The company may have also removed perfectly good trees from the park while clearing out the rest.

Hutchinson and parks commission attorney Chuck Bailey said company president David Bowen presented what appeared to be a valid timbering license and insurance information when he agreed to do the work, and parks officials had no reason to doubt that his other state paperwork was in order. But Carper blasted back that it took courthouse staff about 10 minutes of research to discover the tax liens and that Bowen's state business license had been revoked.

If one of Bowen's employees had been injured on the job, the lack of Worker's Compensation coverage would have left the county liable for their medical care, Carper chided.

Officials for the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for much of the cleanup work following the storm, which knocked down dozens of trees in the 900-acre park. But Hutchinson and Bailey said parks officials believed FEMA would not pay for hauling off the debris or cutting down damaged trees that were away from the road or other parks facilities.

Hutchinson and Bailey said parks officials had tried for several months to get someone to haul away the debris and cut the other damaged trees. When an employee from Russell Trucking suggested the company do the work for free, parks officials jumped on the offer.

But Carper criticized Hutchinson for not having the same contractor who cut the trees on the FEMA project do the rest of the work, and for not checking further into Russell Trucking's history. He said FEMA probably would have paid for at least some of the additional cleanup work.

Hutchinson said he didn't know if Bowen cut down trees that he wasn't authorized to take. Carper said county officials will send forestry experts into Coonskin to try to determine if any trees were taken without permission.

"The biggest problem is going to be that none of this is in writing," Carper said. The lack of a written contract will make it virtually impossible for the county to recoup any losses over poached lumber. Carper has also referred the matter to the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department.

Also Tuesday, Carper and county commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores heard a pitch from officials for Camp Virgil Tate to sell some of their timber to help finance a new swimming pool.

West Virginia University Extension Agent Kerri Wade, who is also a member of the Camp Virgil Tate board of directors, said officials don't want to clear-cut or randomly timber about 400 acres at the camp, but selectively cut trees on the property. Camp officials have been worried that the forest needs thinned out anyway for the health of the remaining trees.

Camp officials hope to get about $300,000 from the sale of the timber. The proposal must still go through public hearings, the Kanawha County Planning Commission and the County Commission.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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