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UPDATE: Charleston airport responds to allegations in chemical spill lawsuit

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UPDATE 3:40 p.m., June 24:

Airport officials responded to allegations from a Freedom Industries lawsuit that claims a project the airport did in 2004 led to the Jan. 9 chemical spill contaminating the drinking water supply in nine different West Virginia counties.

The consolidated class-action complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges a project that took place at Yeager Airport in the early 2000s connects to the spill of crude MCHM into the Elk River in January 2014.

Rick Atkinson, Yeager Airport Executive Director, said while the airport’s general position is to not comment on pending litigation, the airport took great care in the runway extension project, he said.

“First, from 2004, when the project started, till now, Freedom Industries never registered or filed a single complain with the airport, the Department of Environmental Protection, the county or any other agency of which we are aware about storm water runoff from the airport impacting their operation in any way, shape or form,” Atkinson said in a news release. “Not a single complaint. Second, before the first shovel full of earth was moved on this project, the West Virginia DEP approved our construction and earth moving plans above the tank farm.

“These plans included diversion of storm water runoff from above the Etowah River Terminal tank farm from the airport property. The permit was released by the DEP after the project satisfactory completion.”

The news release points to Mike Dorsey, the director of emergency response and homeland security, in saying during the initial investigation in January, there was no "obvious" water coming down the hillside – from the airport to the tank farm.

“Yeager Airport takes its responsibility to the community very seriously and that’s why we took great care to select qualified, experienced contractors and engineers to design and construct this vital airport safety improvement project,” Atkinson added.

Original Story: 

A federal lawsuit blames a Charleston airport runway construction project for the January chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without clean water for days.

The consolidated lawsuit filed Friday in Charleston says Yeager Airport's now-complete runway extension never safeguarded against stormwater runoff. Plaintiffs say the airport let water flow downhill to the Freedom Industries site below, which eroded the foundation of the tank that spilled.

The lawsuit says effects of the runway project that started in 2004 "significantly caused or contributed" to Freedom leaking coal-cleaning chemicals into the Elk River on Jan. 9.

The lawsuit also targets a former and current Freedom executive, the company that produces the chemical, the water company and its parent and runway project contractors.

An airport spokesman didn't immediately return a telephone message Tuesday.

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