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License suspended for alleged Coonskin Park logger

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State forestry officials have suspended the license of a logger who allegedly timbered Coonskin Park without permission.

Jeremy Jones, of the state Division of Forestry, told members of the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission that forestry officials have suspended the timbering license of David Bowen until Bowen mitigates damage from an allegedly unauthorized timbering operation inside the park.

Members of the parks board agreed to have Bowen remove storm debris from last year's derecho storm left over after a Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded cleanup, and to cut the tops out of damaged trees hanging near the road and public areas of the park. But Parks Commission President Anna Dailey and parks board attorney Chuck Bailey said Bowen allegedly went far beyond the scope of the agreement, cutting logging roads and cutting and selling as much as $66,000 in timber.

"I feel like we got had," Dailey said.

Bailey said the agreement with Bowen never included cutting roads or felling trees for profit, and Jones said his state timbering permit only authorized the storm cleanup.

"I was surprised as you guys were at what had been done," Jones told parks commission members at a meeting Wednesday. "He represented to me he would not be building any roads."

Bowen has not responded to telephone calls seeking comment.

Margaret Zaleski, a frequent visitor to Coonskin Park, told parks officials about the unauthorized logging at a meeting last month. Zaleski said she was angry about the lack of oversight of the project, which was agreed to without a written contract.

Now that the trees are gone and the damage is done, Dailey asked what the parks board could do about what she referred to as the theft of county property. Bailey said the parks commission certainly has grounds to sue Bowen, but wants to wait and see if the contractor does a satisfactory job repairing the damage before deciding on further action.

Jones said forestry officials are requiring Bowen to reseed every bit of soil he disturbed in Coonskin Park and to return the hillsides to as close as possible to their original contour before giving him his timbering license back. Because the logging took place in a public park, he said forestry officials are making Bowen do more than if he had logged on private land.

Records on file in the Secretary of State's office show that Russell Trucking LLC, Bowen's company, had its state business license revoked in December 2012. State and county tax records also indicate Bowen owes $89,000 in Workers' Compensation and $23,000 in tax liens.

Parks officials didn't know about the revoked license and unpaid Workers' Compensation at the time they made the agreement with Bowen. Bailey said they didn't think to look, because Bowen presented a valid timbering permit and certificates of insurance when he agreed to do the work at the park.

It is still unclear how the contractor was able to get a timbering permit with a revoked business license and insurance coverage with unpaid Workers' Compensation liens.

"There are systems in place, and sometimes they fail," Bailey said. "They failed here."

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

 


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