WHITESVILLE - The town of Whitesville has been told that a lack of communication with landowners - preventing them from having necessary mapping scheduled - has blocked the process of creating an ATV trail head connecting the town to the Hatfield McCoy Trail System.
Boone County Commissioner Craig Bratcher attended a council meeting on Aug. 22 and spoke to the council about the trail head.
Bratcher said he had been accused on social media of diverting the trail head to Racine and away from Whitesville, where a meeting was held in the spring regarding the possibilities. The executive director of the trail, Jeffrey Lusk, was in attendance, according to town officials.
"I directly asked (Lusk) about Whitesville and basically he told me that the way these contracts are settled and done that it is basically who signs contracts including the land owners and home owners," Bratcher said.
"Who signs contracts first are the ones they move on first. They have 34 projects going and 24 are held up due to land companies and homeowners."
Bratcher said that, according to Lusk, Whitesville is landlocked with land companies making their situation more difficult, adding that Cole & Crane would not return their calls.
"He said they are unwilling to return a phone call," said Bratcher.
Whitesville mayor Freddie Harless responded at the meeting, "That is the complete opposite of what he (Lusk) told us."
Bratcher stated, "if Cole & Crane let them on the property that another company called Heartland Forest Land Group would have to give permission for mapping," he said. "Then you have hunting clubs that have property leased out. They have a right to say no. He said that right now it is a major roadblock."
Cole & Crane Chief Engineer Phil Montague said there was no roadblock or lack of communication from Cole & Crane.
"The only person that I ever talked to or heard from about that trail was (vice president) John Fekete," Montague said via phone on Aug. 29. "He contacted me in March of 2018 and wanted to come in and do mapping. I told him that this was fine. He also knew that at the time, he had to get approval from Alpha Natural Resources because there is a lot of activities on that property. Their land guy there said sure, go ahead."
Montague said he told Fekete to send him an agreement and he'd sign it.
"I told him about some changes I wanted made and he sent it back with the changes but it was still blank," he said. "I told him to fill it out with all of our information and send it back and I'd sign it. That was in July of 2018 and I never heard about it again."
At the meeting, Bratcher said, "I did not have anything to do with them putting (a trailhead) in Peytona or Racine to start with. You can call me a liar when I walk out of here and I don't care. I had nothing to do with that."
Councilman Matt Lively responded to Bratcher with printed email communication he received from Kris Mitchell, the Director of the Boone County Community & Economic Development Corporation, previously reported by the Coal Valley News. In April, according to Boone County Commission records, Mitchell was reappointed to the Hatfield McCoy Regional Recreation Authority board, one she has served on since 2014.
"This will provide a better understanding of why we are so upset," Lively added. "We had a meeting with the folks from Hatfield and McCoy and not one representative from the county came here. Our second meeting Mitchell came as well as the hunting clubs. When we left that meeting, she was going to make this happen and was the point of contact. When we all left, the hunting clubs were going to let them do mapping and discuss it from there."
Lively sent an email to Mitchell on March 28, 2019, inquiring about the Whitesville project.
Mitchell responded a day later, "It took some time to obtain a mapping agreement from Cole & Crane, a land company which owns the entry property. This was recently signed. On a more positive note, we are working on another land company on smaller trail near Racine that will be tied in when it is complete."
In that email, Mitchell named the person who was to start the mapping process.
On May 3, Lively reached out to Mitchell again to check the status of the trail project.
Mitchell responded, "I've been meeting with the property owner at Indian Creek that hopes to start the trail there. We cannot go onto the Williams Mountain Property (Whitesville Project) until we have a signed mapping agreement from Cole & Crane, another landowner. They have given us a verbal agreement but have not yet to sign anything, despite multiple visits, phone calls and emails."
After being made aware of the email communication, Bratcher stated, "So she (Mitchell) retracted back from what she said about it being signed and now she's saying it ain't signed. I can see why everybody is upset."
Mitchell responded to the email communications brought forth at the meeting from her office via telephone on Monday morning, which was previously reported by the Coal Valley News.
"I was wrong," she said. "What I was told is that Hatfield and McCoy had been in constant contact with Cole & Crane. Everybody has reached out to Cole & Crane and they had a verbal agreement and they said that if they were sent the mapping agreement, they would sign it. Wonderful, we sent the agreement and we didn't get it back. I know it has been sent to them twice. I was completely wrong in saying that and I made an assumption and they had signed other mapping agreements."
Mitchell added, "That was completely my mistake, I should not have said that."
A message was left for Jeffrey Lusk at his office and via email with no response.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 304-307-2403.