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Coonskin gate locks out Yeager Airport officials

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yeager Airport security police say they couldn't get into the upper part of Coonskin Park on eight separate days in May and June because they didn't have a key to the upper gate.

Airport Deputy Director Terry Sayre said airport police reported they couldn't get through the gate on May 6, 7, 12 and 14 or on June 3, 4, 17 and 24.

"We need to get up there so we can patrol the flat top area across from the runway," Sayre said. "Our goal is to do two or more perimeter patrols a day, and that's part of the perimeter."

The gate, which has three separate locks, provides access to Coonskin Park's upper picnic areas and a large, flat plateau across from Yeager's runway that is off-limits to the public. Only one of the three locks belongs to park officials, but Sayre said airport police apparently didn't have a key to that lock.

Some of the dates airport police said they couldn't get through the gate coincide with the time period contractor Russell Trucking LLC was in the upper part of the park on an agreement to clean up storm debris from last year's derecho storm. But the contractor allegedly went well beyond the scope of his agreement with parks officials, and is accused of timbering the park without authorization.

State forestry officials have suspended the company's timbering license until the damage is cleaned up, and Kanawha County sheriff's deputies are conducting a criminal investigation.

In trying to get to the bottom of the timbering problem, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper repeatedly asked if the lock to the upper park had been changed recently, and was repeatedly told it had not.

Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said airport police should have had a key to the lock. He said the lock was last changed in March 2012 and that airport officials were given a key at the time.

Hutchinson wasn't sure why police said they didn't have a key to the lock in May and June. When Airport Director Rick Atkinson told him he needed keys for the lock, Hutchinson said he hand-delivered two more sets of keys to Coonskin's main gate and two sets for the gate to the upper park.

"Nobody changed the locks on them, and no one denied them access," Hutchinson said.

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


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