Parks board votes to let gas company drill at Shawnee Park property

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission voted Thursday to permit a gas company to drill a natural gas well on Shawnee Park property.The company, Reserve Oil & Gas, plans to drill the well in an area between a set of railroad tracks south of the main portion of the park and the Kanawha River.It has not yet applied for a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection for the activity, according to the DEP's website.Reserve is the same company that has drilled wells at Coonskin Park, Capital High School, Yeager Airport and West Virginia State University in recent years.Doug Douglass, a land manager for Reserve Oil & Gas, said the company recently acquired a pipeline that runs through Shawnee Park to West Virginia State University, and the company wanted to connect the proposed Shawnee Park well to that pipeline.Douglass said the well would be similar to others the company has drilled on public property.Such wells are vertical and are fractured using compressed nitrogen gas -- a vastly different process than the massive Marcellus Shale wells, which use hydraulic fracturing.Parks commission members wanted to make sure recreation areas in the park and park patrons wouldn't be disturbed during the process."You wouldn't even see us," Douglass said. "We wouldn't be in the grass area."Besides Coonskin Park, the parks commission has leased land for wells on property it owns in Charleston. The wells generate several thousand dollars annually in royalties for the park system and the parks commission is also entitled to a set amount of free natural gas for its own purposes.The free gas will begin to be made available this spring after Reserve Oil & Gas made an agreement with Mountaineer Gas -- the parks commission's provider -- to credit the gas to the parks system. The parks commission voted to allow the gas drilling at Shawnee Park, provided a lease agreement is the same as existing gas agreements between the parks commission and Reserve.The lease comes at the same time a surface lease is pending for Shawnee Park, in which the city of Dunbar will take control of the park at the beginning of next month.Though the lease with Dunbar has been approved by that city and the parks commission, it must be approved by the National Park Service, Hutchinson said.Of the parks commission's four employees at Shawnee Park, three will transfer to Dunbar and one will remain with the parks commission.
"They're getting a pretty good package and they're keeping their jobs," Hutchinson said of the employees being transferred to Dunbar.
Hutchinson said in the 10 years he has been in his current position, the parks system has been reduced from 36 full-time employees to 18, a figure that includes those going to Dunbar. Those reductions have come from retirements and employees leaving, and "as people have left we've not replaced them," he said.In other business, the commission:* Heard an update about the civil lawsuit filed by the parks commission against Russell Trucking and David Bowen, who is responsible for last summer's timber theft from Coonskin Park.Last month, the parks commission learned Bowen and his company had been offered a settlement agreement in which Bowen would pay the estimated value of the trees -- about $150,000 -- plus attorney fees, or face a civil lawsuitHowever, it was evident Bowen would not pay the amount requested in the settlement, said Jordan Herrick, an attorney who works for Parks Commission Attorney Chuck Bailey's law firm. Thus, the law firm went ahead and filed the suit.
"The most anything they would ever offer was $25,000," Herrick said.* Learned Herrick has sent a letter to the makers of the failing turf at the Schoenbaum Soccer Stadium, requesting the manufacturer -- FieldTurf, a division of Tarkett Sports -- honor the turf's warranty.Earlier this year, the turf began to fail after a heavy rain. While the remaining turf is safe to use, some of the "blades" have come off the field.The turf was installed just six years ago. Premature failures of similar fields around the country have also been reported, including at professional and collegiate stadiums.Hutchinson said last month the turf is under warranty and was supposed to last for more than a decade.FieldTurf has only offered to provide a discount on installing a new field, rather than replace the failing turf.However, the parks commission felt the entire cost of a new field should be covered.Parks Commission Attorney Chuck Bailey said while a letter has been sent to the company, he's not optimistic that will cause the company to take action."We'll end up suing them," he said. "They're not going to honor (the warranty)."* Learned the West Virginia Golf Association is moving its offices from Coonskin Park to the Charleston Town Center mall at the end of April.Hutchinson said the organization has outgrown its current space, and will still have some events at Coonskin Park.* Approved the use of the Coonskin Amphitheater for the West Virginia State Flatpick Guitar Championship on May 2-3. The parks commission will charge the event $250 to cover incurred costs. Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him on Twitter @DMLocalGov and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DailyMailLocalGov.
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