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Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges Negligence on W. VA. Airport

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A uniquely designed airport built in 1947 in Charleston, W.Va., has been swept up in the flurry of litigation surrounding a January incident that spilled 10,000 gallons of chemicals into the Elk River, contaminating the water supply of over 300,000 residents in nine counties. The federal class-action lawsuit, filed on June 20 in Southern West Virginia District Court, claims Triad Engineering and excavation contractor Cast & Baker were environmentally negligent on a Yeager Airport runway extension project, finished in 2011.

The 10 residents and four businesses listed in the complaint allege that stormwater runoff from the reinforced slope, built to support the runway, flooded an industrial tank farm, causing the spill. The Central West Virginia Airport Authority also is named as a defendant. Airport director Rick Atkinson defends the contractors and says Freedom Industries, the tank-farm operator, never raised a concern about stormwater runoff since construction began in 2004.

Freedom Industries' spill prevention plan consisted of a "cinder block" and a "bag of kitty litter," Atkinson says. Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy and this month fired its cleanup contractor, Civil & Environmental Consultants, after stormwater overflowed a ditch at the site.

Sitting on a man-made, 1,030-ft-high plateau, Yeager required 9 million cu yd of excavation, according to its website. Engineers have hailed the extension, which required slope stabilization with geosynthetic materials, as a technical feat.

Plaintiffs see a bizarrely sited airport facing obsolescence. Officials "decided to undertake an elaborate ... project that involved disturbing ... 170 acres of vegetated and forested land, including 55 acres of clear-cutting," the complaint says.

The lawsuit adds, "The logging companies that contracted with the Airport received multiple citations from the West Virginia Division of Forestry during this clear-cutting phase for their failure to comply with 'best management practices.' ... No permanent stormwater detention or retention structures were installed."

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