CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP/WSAZ) -- A federal lawsuit blames a Charleston airport runway construction project for the January chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without clean water for days.
The consolidated lawsuit filed Friday in Charleston says Yeager Airport's now-complete runway extension never safeguarded against stormwater runoff.
Plaintiffs say the airport let water flow downhill to the Freedom Industries site below, which eroded the foundation of the tank that spilled.
The lawsuit says effects of the runway project that started in 2004 "significantly caused or contributed" to Freedom leaking coal-cleaning chemicals into the Elk River on Jan. 9.
Yeager Airport Executive Director Rick Atkinson said, “Our general position is not to comment on pending litigation. However, I would like to make three basic points regarding this filing.”
“First, from 2004, when the project started, till now, Freedom Industries never registered or filed 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. Not a single complaint.
Second, before the first shovel full of earth was moved on this project, the West Virginia DEP 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 projects satisfactory completion.
Finally, Mike Dorsey, the director of emergency response and homeland security for the state Department of Environmental Protection was quoted today in the Charleston Gazette as saying there was “no obvious stream of water coming off the hillside.” The same article notes that officials have looked into whether any of runoff coming on to Freedom’s site was made worse by construction projects at Yeager, and Dorsey said ‘we’re not seeing that.’”
The lawsuit filed Friday also targets a former and current Freedom executive, the company that produces the chemical, the water company and its parent and runway project contractors.
“Yeager Airport takes its responsibility to the community very seriously and 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.