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Yeager disputes role in MCHM spill

By Rick Steelhammer, Staff writer

A consolidated class action complaint filed last Friday in federal court alleging that storm runoff from a runway extension project at Charleston’s Yeager Airport played a role in January’s MCHM spill into the Elk River from Freedom Industries’ tank farm elicited a three-point denial from airport director Rick Atkinson Tuesday.

On Jan. 9, one tank at the tank farm, located off Barlow Drive, between the Elk River and the airport’s main runway, discharged thousands of gallons of the coal-cleaning agent into the Elk River, contaminating the drinking water supply for more than 300,000 people. That leak generated dozens of lawsuits by residents and business operators affected by the loss of water suitable for drinking, washing or bathing.

The complaint filed Friday charges that Yeager Airport’s “lack of adequate storm water controls” contributed to “the erosion of the tank’s foundation, which played a role in its ultimate failure. The filing added the Charleston airport as a defendant in the class action suit, along with Triad Engineering, Yeager’s engineering firm for the runway extension project.

The complaint maintained that Yeager encountered numerous problems with storm drainage from construction and logging on airport property during he runway extension project. In 2005, the state Division of Forestry shut down a pair of logging contractors preparing the site for construction for operating in a stream and failing to install drainage controls on skid roads. In 2008, the state Division of Environmental Protection fined Yeager $15,000 for inadequate sediment controls, and ordered the airport to make $21,750 in repairs to Coonskin Park’s Elk River Trail, a portion of which was blocked by a slide from the construction zone. The airport passed the fines along to its main contractor, Cast and Baker, and required company representatives to appear at monthly airport board meetings to make presentations on environmental compliance and construction progress.

Work on the runway extension project was completed in 2011. From 2008 to 2011 students from Glenville State College’s land resources program planted more than 10,000 trees on slopes between the main runway and the Elk River.

Atkinson said the newest filing took him by surprise, since from 2004 to the present, “Freedom Industries has never registered a single complaint with the airport, the Department of Environmental Protection, the county or any other agency of which we are aware about storm water runoff from the airport impacting their operation in any way, shape or form.”

Further, Atkinson said, “before the first shovel full of earth was moved on this project, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection approved our construction and earth-moving plans above the tank farm. These plans included diversion of storm water runoff from above the Etowah River Terminal tank farm from the airport property. The permit was released by the DEP after the project’s satisfactory completion.”

Atkinson said he agreed with comments that appeared in the Gazette by Mike Dorsey, the DEP’s director of emergency response, who told a Gazette reporter in February that “there was no obvious stream of water coming off the [airport runway’s] hillside.”

Atkinson said Yeager Airport “takes its responsibility to the community very seriously. That’s why we took great care to select qualified, experienced contractors and engineers to design and construct this vital airport safety improvement project.”

Atkinson said he learned of Friday’s filing while en route to an air service conference in Edmonton, Alberta. “It really took me be surprise,” he said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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