Ameren close to settlement in Taum Sauk case

Thursday, October 25, 2007 | 5:47 p.m. CDT; updated 10:47 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 18, 2009

ST. LOUIS — Ameren Corp. is close to reaching a settlement with state officials that would end a civil lawsuit against the utility and repay damages associated with the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse, according to a court filing obtained by The Associated Press.

The Oct. 18 filing asks a Missouri Court of Appeals judge to delay a hearing related to the reservoir collapse because: “All parties to this matter are in the final stages of negotiating a settlement, which if and when completed, will moot this appeal.”

Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said she wouldn’t comment because all parties have agreed to keep settlement talks confidential.

“We won’t discuss status, timing or provisions in the settlement,” Gallagher said.

Ameren has spent months negotiating with state agencies affected by the December 2005 reservoir collapse, which devastated much of the Johnson’s Shut-Ins state park and injured a family of five. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon is suing Ameren and has joined the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and Department of Conservation in negotiating a settlement.

Ameren could pay millions to settle the case. A draft settlement presented to the company by the Department of Natural Resources and obtained by the Associated Press last year asked for roughly $125 million for damages and fines associated with the accident.

Missouri’s utility regulator released a report on the catastrophe Wednesday that said the accident was “entirely avoidable,” and resulted from a “management failure” at Ameren. The Missouri Public Service Commission recommended a host of management changes to avoid a similar accident at the company’s other power plants.

Ameren has 90 days to respond to the recommendations. Gallagher said the company has already made many of the changes.

Ameren managers delayed repairing faulty instrumentation at the mountaintop reservoir in 2005, causing it to overflow and collapse, spilling more than 1 billion gallons of water into the state park below, according to the Public Service Commission report.

Nixon sued Ameren a year after the collapse. Department of Natural Resources attorneys filed a motion to join that lawsuit, but Nixon opposed it. A Reynolds County judged ruled in Nixon’s favor, and the Department of Natural Resources appealed that decision, insisting it had a right to join the lawsuit because much of the economic damages happened in a state park.

A brief was scheduled to be filed for that appeal Friday.

The Department of Natural Resources filed a motion to delay that deadline because of the impending settlement. The motion was signed by Kurt Schaefer, former head attorney for the Department of Natural Resources who now works in the private sector but represents the department in the case.

Schaefer wouldn’t comment on details of the settlement or say how close it might be to completion.

“I think everyone is working diligently to reach a solution,” he said.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste would not comment on the settlement or the recent court filing.

Ameren’s and Nixon’s attorneys were both given copies of the Oct. 18 court filing, and no one objected to the language it contained about the settlement, Schaefer said.

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