CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The contractor in charge of clearing the wooded area for Kanawha County's new "School of the Future" has burned dozens of trees in what neighbors called a roaring bonfire that violated a host of environmental permits.The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued a Notice of Violation to Carpenter Reclamation Inc. of Sissonville for illegal open burning at the school construction site off Edgewood Drive in Charleston.Last Friday, the DEP's Division of Air Quality investigated Carpenter Reclamation's land-clearing operation and said the company had violated state code by openly burning wood and brush in open fires, rather than using a pit burner that is meant to contain smoke."There were trees piled all over the hillside and, at 6:30 on Friday evening, they decided to light those piles on fire even though they weren't supposed to burn them openly at night," said Rick Brown, a Wood Road resident whose home overlooks the construction site.
The construction permits clearly state that all burning is supposed to occur during daylight hours, but Brown said a "roaring" fire blazed all night last week and blanketed the neighborhood in heavy smoke and ash."We've endured 60 days of burning and haven't complained until the smoke came pouring down to our side of the hill," Brown told the Kanawha County Board of Education Thursday night. "This is a residential neighborhood. We're not a Mingo County strip mine. People keep saying how this has to be done quickly to get this school built and that we shouldn't complain."Carpenter Reclamation must explain in writing what led to the violation of the open burning permits. The DEP's Division of Air Quality will determine whether to fine the company in the upcoming weeks.Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County school board, said the school system would more strictly monitor the contractors and apologized to Brown and other residents for the inconvenience."We are very, very apologetic," said Pete Thaw, president of the Kanawha County school board. "This soon will pass, and you'll have a new school and your property value will go up."Robin Rector, another board member, said it was the county's responsibility to ensure any contractors are complying with established construction codes."I know these contractors have to make money, too, and if they are allowed, they will take shortcuts," Rector said. "We just really need to supervise it. I would be totally dismayed if I was living on this street and had to navigate the amount of smoke and cinder. We are clearly over the line here."In February, the Kanawha County school board approved a $6.5 million contract with Carpenter Reclamation to do all the site preparation for the county's second West Side Elementary School.The second West Side school will be a "school of the future" that will consolidate students from J.E. Robins and Watts elementary schools and emphasize Web-based tools.It will cost more than $6.5 million to clear trees, move earth and build an access road up to the site of the new school.County officials project that the school will have cost about $21 million when it is completed in fall 2013 or early 2014.
"We try to be good neighbors, we're just asking you to be good neighbors," Brown said. "I'm not saying don't put the school there, but have some consideration for the people nearby. You need to put some controls on it."Reach Amy Julia Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.