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Parks board mulls timber lawsuit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County parks officials will decide next month if they will file a lawsuit against a logger who allegedly stole more than $100,000 in timber from Coonskin Park.

Members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission voted Thursday to take up a possible civil lawsuit against contractor David R. Bowen at their November meeting.

Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson made a verbal contract with Bowen over the summer to cut down about 30 trees damaged by last year's devastating derecho storm. Instead, Bowen allegedly cut down more than 300 trees, which he reportedly sold for more than $100,000.

Kanawha sheriff's deputies are conducting a criminal investigation into the cutting of the trees, but no charges have been filed.

A decision by the parks commission on whether to pursue legal action against Bowen has been twice delayed as parks officials waited for an update on the investigation and legal advice from parks board attorney Chris Bailey. Parks officials also wanted to see if Bowen would make good on a promise to pave damaged parts of Coonskin's roads.

Bailey did not have details of the investigation in time for the parks commission's August meeting and was out of town during Thursday's meeting. Discussion of the alleged timber theft was on the agenda for both meetings.

However, parks commission President Anna Dailey said Thursday she is tired of putting a decision off. "We've waited long enough," Dailey said. She said Bowen has not shown good faith in dealing with parks officials after the alleged theft was discovered.

Parks officials voted to put a decision on whether to sue Bowen or not on the agenda for their regular meeting on Nov. 21. "I'm ready to get started," Dailey said.

Margaret Zaleski, a regular park visitor who first reported the alleged theft to parks officials, criticized Bailey for missing Thursday's meeting and the parks board for not being more forthcoming with information about the alleged theft. Zaleski and her husband, Joe, suspect a cover-up by parks officials.

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


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