Coonskin timbering might wind up in court
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Parks Commission might sue a contractor who allegedly built logging roads and cut down trees in Coonskin Park without permission.
Parks Commission attorney Chuck Bailey said Thursday the parks board might take David R. Bowen to court if it turns out Bowen overstepped the terms of an agreement to clear storm debris and cut down damaged trees in Coonskin Park.
"If that happens," Bailey said, "I'll recommend to the board that legal action will be taken."
Earlier this year, members of the Parks Commission voted to hire Bowen and his company, Russell Trucking LLC, to remove debris left over from a Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded cleanup of Coonskin after last summer's derecho storm. Bowen also was asked to remove damaged trees near the roads, picnic shelters and other public areas that parks officials thought FEMA wouldn't pay for.
Parks board members were told that Bowen would do the work in exchange for a tax write-off and the chance to sell any of the lumber that might be of value. Bowen was not to be paid for the work.
The work was done in May. However, Bowen might have gone beyond the scope of the oral agreement, bulldozing logging roads and cutting down dozens of apparently healthy trees far from the roads and other public areas of the park.
At a meeting of the Kanawha County Commission on Tuesday, Commission President Kent Carper accused Bowen of timbering the park without permission. Kanawha County Parks Director Jeff Hutchinson said Russell Trucking was not authorized to cut timber or build logging roads in the park, and that Bowen was the only one with heavy equipment in the park at the time the trees were cut.
Bowen could not be reached for comment Thursday.
However, Bailey said the Parks Commission never intended to give Bowen permission to run a logging operation in Coonskin.
"The board would have never approved anything like that, and I would not recommend anything like that without more due diligence," Bailey said.
"This was just a cleanup issue," he said. "All [Bowen] was going to do was clean the material up and move on."
Hutchinson said senior parks staff members were on vacation when the cleanup work was done, and he was out of town for several days while Bowen was on the job. Parks officials did not discover until recently that Bowen apparently had cut logging roads and timbered the property.
Margaret Zaleski, a frequent park visitor and a former employee of a logging company in New York, brought the alleged logging operation to the attention of the Parks Commission at a meeting earlier this month.
County officials have since discovered that Bowen apparently had more than $89,000 in state liens for unpaid workers' compensation coverage and more than $23,000 in liens for unpaid timber severance taxes.
The Secretary of State's Office revoked Russell Trucking's business license in December 2012. Jake Glance, spokesman for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, said Bowen should not have engaged in any new business after the license was revoked.
Bailey said parks officials were unaware of problems with the company because Bowen presented a valid state forestry permit and proof of insurance coverage when he agreed to do the job. Bailey doesn't know how the contractor was able to get a forestry permit and insurance certificate if his business license had been revoked and he had liens against him for unpaid workers' compensation.
He said parks officials probably will conduct more homework in the future before hiring contractors.
A review of state records shows that Bowen has headed a number of companies over the years. From 1991 to 1994, he ran a company called Ruka Trucking Co. Inc., but that company was dissolved by court order. He then ran Big Stick Lumber Co. from 1999 to 2003, but that company also was dissolved.
Bowen incorporated Bowen/Klein Inc. in 2005, but the state revoked the company's business license in 2007. Russell Trucking LLC formed in 2007.
Bowen most recently started Bo-Ru LLC, which incorporated July 1.
Even though there was no written contract between parks officials and Bowen, Bailey said, the Parks Commission still can sue the contractor if he broke the agreement.
"You can have an oral contract," Bailey said. "It's a classic legal issue. I'm not worried about winning a lawsuit against the man."
Reach Rusty Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1215.