CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County parks officials have filed a lawsuit against a contractor accused of illegally timbering Coonskin Park.
Chuck Bailey, lawyer for the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission, filed the lawsuit last week in Kanawha Circuit Court. The suit alleges David Russell Bowen illegally cut more than 300 trees in Coonskin Park during May and June of 2013, and later sold the timber for more than $140,000.
Bowen made an oral agreement with Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson last year to clean up storm damage at the park caused by the 2012 derecho. The parks commission approved the deal, but later found out that Bowen allegedly cut down 329 trees instead of the 30 or so trees parks officials said he was authorized to cut.
The lawsuit alleges that Bowen sold the timber at different sawmills for almost $144,000, damaged another 78 trees and disturbed other trees and soil in the park. In the lawsuit, Bailey also accuses Bowen of trespassing, breach of contract and fraud.
Bowen did not return a telephone call on Tuesday, but has said parks officials knew exactly what he was doing in Coonskin Park.
"I did what I was told to do," he said last August. "That's the whole reason I was in there. If it wasn't, why would I be in there for two months?"
Bowen allegedly cut logging roads in the park in violation of his state timbering license. Margaret Zaleski, a frequent visitor to Coonskin Park, first told parks officials about the damage and apparent timber theft.
Hutchinson was criticized at the time for entering into the agreement with Bowen without a written contract, but Hutchinson and Bailey said they had no reason to doubt Bowen because he presented what appeared to be valid documentation.
State forestry officials failed to renew Bowen's timbering license following the incident at Coonskin Park, but Bowen has since been operating under a different company name. Bowen said in September he was working for Bo-Ru LLC, a company owned by his mother, Ella Bowen.
Bailey is asking for damages for the loss of the timber and damaged trees, punitive damages and court costs. He said parks officials are entitled to triple damages under state law.
Kanawha County sheriff's deputies are also conducting a criminal investigation into the timbering operation. No charges have been filed as a result of that investigation.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.