CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A local environmental protection group is continuing to take action against a proposed plan to cut into a large portion of Coonskin Park.
The grassroots movement to protect one of Charleston’s most popular and only green spaces, Save Coonskin Park, will be holding a rally at the park this Sunday, October 1 continuing their pushback for West Virginia International Yeager Airport’s prospective runway expansion project.
The group asserts the airport plans to cut and fill over 440 acres of land through the park to extend its runway, a project they say is identical to mountaintop removal coal mining projects. In addition, they claim another 375 acres of the park will be inaccessible to the public if the project goes through.
“This creates a whole lot of environmental issues that our group feels is worth bringing to the public’s attention,” Save Coonskin spokesperson Jeremy Severn told MetroNews.
He said the list of potential and detrimental issues the project’s impact would have on the environment is a long one, but one major concern is all of the dirt from the removal of the mountaintop that would be pumped into the valley where Coonskin Branch meets the Elk River. Severn said this could threaten the river as well as public drinking water.
“If this proposal would go through we would end up with a mountaintop removal site just upstream from the West Virginia American Water intake, and you’ve also got the possibility of runoff from the site, as well as the possibility of another collapse like there was a collapse on the other end on the Keystone side,” said Severn.
The rally will call on the Federal Aviation Administration, and local, state, and federal officials to get on board with helping to protect the park.
The Save Coonskin group has been busy for months now raising awareness of the issue and garnering support for the movement to protect the park, even reaching a total of 5,000 signatures back in early August on a community petition, and sending a letter out to the FAA and airport officials about their stance on the matter.
Now, Severn said the petition has over 11,000 signatures, and while the deadline for it is over he said people can still access it on the group’s website and add their signatures. He said they will continue to keep record of all of the signatures they receive, as they need all of the support for the movement they can get.
“Our goal has been making sure that the public is aware of the project number one, and then assuring that the project is not a done deal. there’s still a very long process ahead and there’s still a lot of things the airport and the FAA are going to continue to talk about,” he said.
Severn said the airport recently received more grant money to explore other alternatives for the project, which means there’s still hope for a compromise to be made, and there’s still time to save the park.
“The trucks are not here, there’s now dirt moving and we have a whole lot of time to make sure that we get our voices heard,” Severn said.
As part of the environmental study currently being conducted by the FAA and CRW to officially assess the potential impacts of the project, Severn said they will hold another open comment period in which the group plans to attend. He anticipates the comment period will take place sometime this winter.
Sunday’s rally will take place from noon until 5 p.m. at the park’s Gorman Shelter, one of the main target area’s for the proposed project.
Keynote speakers will address the issue and provide further information from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. for the main part of the rally. In addition, community art, activities and live music will be featured throughout the rest of the event.
Severn said he’s really looking forward to meeting everyone in support of the movement and hopes to see a good turnout, as he feels the rally will be truly impactful with allowing their voices to be heard on the matter.
“Standing at the Gorman Shelter, if this project were to go through, you would be buried under hundreds of feet of dirt and rubble, so to be able to stand there and explain that to people, it’s important,” said Severn.
The musical guests for the event will include The Independent State, Chet Lowther, and Mason Adkins.
The rally is open to all and no registration is required. Those attending are encouraged to bring their own chairs, blankets, and picnic items. The event is expected to go on rain or shine.