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UPDATE: Report Released in Coonskin Timbering Project

By: Jeremy Edwards, Anna Baxter, John Green, Cathleen Moxley Email
By: Jeremy Edwards, Anna Baxter, John Green, Cathleen Moxley Email
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UPDATE 9/19/13 @ 4 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A study by the Division of Forestry on trees that were cut down during a controversial storm clean up project at Coonskin Park is now done.

Dave Bowen was hired to do the work. County leaders say he is accused of cutting down healthy trees to make a profit and then leaving a major mess behind.

The attorney for the Parks and Recreation Commission says Bowen was given permission to cut 31 storm damaged trees.

The study shows he ended up logging more than 330 trees and damaging about 35 others in the process.

The value of the trees is more than $100,000.

County Commissioners say the situation is also the subject of a criminal investigation.



UPDATE 9/19/13 @ 1:55 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A study by the Division of Forestry on trees that were cut down during a controversial storm clean up project at Coonskin Park in Charleston has been completed.

Dave Bowen was hired to do the work. County leaders say he is accused of cutting down healthy trees to make a profit and then leaving a major mess behind.

The attorney for the Parks and Recreation Commission says he received the report Wednesday night. He's still going through it and expects to release it in the next couple of days.

Bowen says most of the mess has also been cleaned up.



UPDATE 7/19/13 @ 9 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A tree cutting controversy at Coonskin Park in Charleston was front and center at the Kanawha County Commission meeting Thursday night.

Commissioners focused on the investigation on what went wrong. It started when the owner of Russell Trucking volunteered to remove debris from last summer's Derecho in exchange for tax relief. Instead, county officials say the company damaged healthy trees, left a mess and sold the lumber for $66,000.

Russell Trucking is now under a suspension order.

County leaders have launched an investigation into how the deal was handled.

"We are also going to turn things over to people to investigate whether or not there has been conversion of property and if there has, we will take appropriate action," Anna Dailey with Kanawha County Parks and Recreation said.

WSAZ.com spoke to the company's owner last week about the situation. Russell Bowen says the company only cut damaged trees at the park.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



UPDATE 7/17/13 @ 9:20 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A committee will now investigate what, if anything, went wrong during a tree-cutting project at Cookskin Park in Charleston.

Coonskin Park was badly damaged during last summer's derecho.

The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation hired Russell Trucking Company to finish the clean-up from the severe storm. However, in recent weeks some say the company has cut hundreds of healthy trees and sold the timber for profit.

During Wednesday's park board meeting, board members formed a committee to look at the issue and determine what should be done next.

Originally the board was told the company sold $25,000 in timber, but during a recent Kanawha County Commission meeting the board learned the total reached $66,000, according to board members.

A spokesperson with the Division of Forestry attended Wednesday's meeting to inform the board that the agency has put the company under a suspension order until reclamation is completed at Coonskin Park. That means the company is not allowed to do any additional harvesting work in West Virginia until the Division of Forestry releases the company from this order.

Russell Trucking will continue its reclamation work at Coonskin Park, but the Division of Forestry will have to approve the work was done properly, according to Leslie Fitzwater, spokesperson for the Division of Forestry.

WSAZ.com spoke to the company's owner last week about the situation. Russell Bowen says they only cut damaged trees at the park.

"I was trying to help the park, because no one would come in here. This is one of the jobs that people don't, don't want to take, and they just couldn't seem to get anyone to help them. So, I don't think I would change anything, because we did exactly what we were suppose to do," Bowen said.

The park's attorney says the agreement was that Russell Trucking would get a tax credit for its work, but the company says they had an agreement with the board that they could sell the lumber to pay for the equipment used.

Bowen says he is not a licensed contractor, but does have a license to log trees. He says his crew has been trying to cleanup, but the weather has been too bad.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.



ORIGINAL STORY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission, along with a business owner, are under the microscope because of a tree-cutting project.

Coonskin Park in Charleston was badly damaged last summer during severe storms.

One year later, parts of the park are still closed.

The process used to select the contractor is now raising some serious questions.

The first contractor was hired by FEMA but was only allowed to do a limited amount of work.

So to finish the job, they hired another company: Russell Trucking.

Margaret and Joseph Zaleski take their dog for a walk through Coonskin Park every day.

“Rain, sleet, snow; whatever,” Margaret said.

They've been doing this for five years, but over the past months, they say things have changed.

Russell Trucking has been timbering the park -- cleaning up from last summer's derecho. But the Zaleski's say they've gone too far.

“We were horrified to see that they were actually going down into the forest, making logging roads that had never been there, and they were cutting perfectly healthy trees,” Margaret said.

There are hundreds of trees that they say should still be standing.

“There was no damage done to it (a tree) from the derecho,” Margaret said. “It saddens me because that is home to squirrels. It's home to birds.”

WSAZ.com spoke with the company's owner, Russell Bowen, over the phone.

Bowen says they only cut damaged trees and salvaged everything they could.

The situation calls into question the agreement between the company and the park, with some worried that the company was cutting healthy trees to make a profit.

“Why in the world would you let someone go into a park, not mark the trees they're gonna take out and not carefully document what they're dragging out of a park?” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said.

The park's attorney says Russell Trucking agreed to do the work for tax credit but was not allowed to sell the lumber.

However, Bowen says he was told he could sell the lumber and that the tax credit was for repaving the roads. He says he used the money from the lumber to pay for the equipment used in the project.

There have also been accusations that Russell Trucking did not have a business license and was not insured. The park's attorney is looking into that but says it appears it does have a license and is insured.

The county commission is looking into the issue to see exactly what went wrong.

Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the latest information.


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