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Environmental group reaching 5,000 signatures on petition to save Coonskin Park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The local environmental group ‘Save Coonskin Park’ reached a total of 5,000 signatures recently on its petition standing against West Virginia International Yeager Airport’s proposal to extend a runway into the park.

Save Coonskin spokesperson Jeremy Severn told MetroNews that getting the support has been the goal behind the movement all along in making people aware of the project’s possibility and the impact it could bring with it.

“You would ask somebody ‘do you know about this proposal?’ and nobody knew anything about it and so its been really good getting to the point where we’re realizing we are finally getting the word out,” Severn said.

Severn said the next step after the petition’s deadline on August 15 is to buckle down on ensuring that all of the project’s stakeholders and decision-makers are aware of the Save Coonskin Park movement.

He said they plan to send a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration, the group who’s ultimately responsible for making the decision on moving forward with the Airfield, Safety and Terminal Improvement Project, and to make the FAA aware of their stance, as they may not know anything about it at this point.

Severn went on to say that the FAA’s next step in the process is to look over the environmental impact study currently being conducted on the project and then to ultimately make the decision of whether or not to move forward with the endeavor of getting the runway extended at CRW.

“The FAA will take all of that information and put it together into a statement, we’ll respond to that statement and it will come back open for another public comment period,” Severn explained. “That’s when we need to make sure all of these petition signers are also going to participate in that next comment period which will be sometime next winter.”

The FAA began its preparation of a draft environmental review of the airfield project in September of last year.

The project, a proposal by the Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, would shift and extend Runway 5-23 to improve airway safety standards and meet FAA design stipulations.

According to the FAA’s website, the project would be operating in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations and other credible sources.

CRW released a statement a month ago about the plans for the project that are currently still pending.

“The proposed airfield, safety, and terminal improvements to satisfy immediate and long-term needs at West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW) are in the early stages of planning with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As such, it would be premature to comment on specific details as no definitive plans have been made,” read the statement from Yeager Airport.

“The FAA will consider all reasonable alternatives of the project with a full and fair discussion of the significant environmental impacts of the Proposed Action. West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW) is committed to operating our facilities in an environmentally responsible manner to conserve the existing resources unique to CRW while also providing a safe and pleasant experience for the public at large, and the Airport’s customers, vendors, and staff. We’re working to prepare the airport for the future of aviation, to ensure CRW can continue to serve as the gateway to West Virginia and the world by retaining and attracting additional air service.”

However, the Save Coonskin Park group is concerned the reality of the project, if it were to get underway at the park, would not happen in any environmentally-friendly capacity, and it would essentially be damaging much of the over a thousand acres of green space the park has to offer.

Although while the group has been trying to get the word out about the potential ecological detriments the project could bring, they also want to remind that they respect the airport and the space CRW occupies itself.

“One of the most interesting and unique things about Coonskin Park is getting to watch the airplanes land at the airport, you’re just right there at the end of the runway and that’s one of the neat things about the park, we just want the spaces to coexist like they have been coexisting for the past 70 years,” Severn said.

Severn said similar to mountaintop removal for coal mining sites, the project would entail stripping land along the park’s mountain tops that would then be used as fill dirt to pack in the valley and extend the runway.

He said Coonskin Park is unique to the area in the sense that it’s the only major green space within the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation system.

“It is really Charleston’s park, is the place where people who live in Charleston and the Elk River area go, this is our green space, and that’s what we need, as much as we need the airport we need the green space,” Severn said.

The group is hoping to reach another thousand signatures on the petition before it gets turned in in a couple of weeks from now. You can find the petition here.

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