EPA criminal investigators look into 2005 reservoir collapse

Tuesday, July 3, 2007 | 1:25 p.m. CDT; updated 10:04 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Criminal investigators at the Environmental Protection Agency are looking into a 2005 reservoir collapse that caused more than 1 billion gallons of water to roar down a mountain into a popular recreational stream.

The collapse of Ameren Corp.’s Taum Sauk reservoir in southeast Missouri washed large amounts of mud, rocks and debris into the Black River and significantly damaged Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, which reopened Monday for a limited two-month period while the cleanup continues.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said in late May that he would not file any criminal charges based on an investigation conducted by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Documents show the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in St. Louis sought and received a copy of the patrol’s investigation report on June 15.

Michael Burnett, the special agent in charge of the EPA’s regional criminal investigation section, said Monday that under the EPA’s policies he could neither confirm nor deny the investigation into the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse.

The EPA’s Internet site says its criminal division “investigates the most significant and egregious violators of environmental laws.”

Findings from an EPA investigation would have to go through the U.S. attorney’s office for a decision on filing charges.

AmerenUE President Tom Voss said he was unaware of any EPA investigation or any contact by EPA officials with Ameren. An Ameren spokesman said Monday that the company still has not been contacted by the EPA regarding the reservoir collapse.

“We feel another investigation is unnecessary, but if they choose to launch one, we’ll cooperate fully with them as well,” spokesman Mike Cleary said.

The reservoir collapse has been investigated not only by the highway patrol, but also by the state Department of Natural Resources, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned electric companies.

Ameren already has agreed to pay $15 million in fines to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the largest fine in the commission’s history.

Nixon is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Ameren, and the state public service commission still is conducting its own investigation into Ameren’s public safety practices.

The state has been trying to negotiate a settlement with Ameren.

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