- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A federal lawsuit blames a Charleston airport runway project in part for the January chemical spill that left 300,000 residents without clean water for days.

The lawsuit said Yeager Airport’s runway extension, which has been completed, never safeguarded against stormwater runoff.

In court papers filed Friday, residents and businesses said the airport let water flow downhill to Freedom Industries, where water eroded a tank’s foundation. Freedom is tucked between the hilltop airport and the Elk River, the source of drinking water for a nine-county region.

Effects of the runway project that began in 2004 “significantly caused or contributed” to chemicals leaking into the Elk River on Jan. 9, court documents said.

After the January spill, West Virginia environmental inspectors didn’t see obvious signs of water runoff from the hillside above Freedom, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Kelley Gillenwater said Tuesday.

Gillenwater said the department couldn’t comment on the merits of the lawsuit.

Airport officials said Tuesday that the state approved project plans before construction started 10 years ago. They said Freedom never complained about water runoff, either.

“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,” Yeager Airport Executive Director Rick Atkinson said in a news release.

After the spill, dozens of people and businesses sued for profits and wages lost while the Kanawha Valley essentially shut down without clean water. Most lawsuits will be decided through claims in bankruptcy court, where Freedom’s dwindling financial resources will eventually be divvied up among interests it owes money.

The allegations against the airport were added to a larger lawsuit Friday that targets a variety of companies and officials, not just Freedom.

Fourteen businesses and individuals are suing the airport, Freedom executives, the chemical’s manufacturer, the water company and its parent and runway contractors.

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