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Environmental concerns could delay Taum Sauk restoration

Friday, November 2, 2007 | 5:28 p.m. CDT; updated 1:53 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The proposed restoration of the Taum Sauk reservoir after its December 2005 collapse could be delayed over environmental concerns and a likely lawsuit against the project.

Federal regulators in August gave Ameren Corp. the necessary approval to begin rebuilding the mountaintop reservoir in southeast Missouri. But on Friday, a St. Louis environmental advocacy group announced its intention to sue over what it called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s failure to properly monitor the reconstruction project.

“This is one of the most catastrophic failures of any reservoir in the country,” said Susan Flader, a past president of the Missouri Parks Association, the plaintiff in the pending suit by the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

The commission, which regulates the 55-acre reservoir, is requiring Ameren to undertake a series of steps to minimize the impact of construction on the nearby Johnson’s Shut-Ins state park and the surrounding environment.

Flader called those steps, which include a reforestation plan, inadequate. The parks group wants the federal agency to require a more detailed environmental impact statement from Ameren.

“That project is in the center of probably the most significant natural landscape and the center of biodiversity in the state of Missouri,” said Flader, who is also a MU history professor.

Officials with both the federal agency and Ameren declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The likely legal battle would only further complicate Ameren’s rebuilding plans. The company has previously said it can’t begin the project until it settles a lawsuit with the state over liabilities from the reservoir’s breach.

Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit last year alleging Ameren placed profits over safety in its operation of Taum Sauk. State regulators found that Ameren managers delayed repairing faulty instrumentation at the mountaintop reservoir, causing it to overflow and collapse, spilling more than 1 billion gallons of water into the state park below.

A recent court filing suggests that the two parties are close to reaching a settlement. A draft settlement presented to the company by the state Department of Natural Resources last year asked for roughly $125 million for damages and fines associated with the accident.

In return for the damage to state parkland, the state also wants Ameren to turn over a stretch of abandoned rail line that could be used to extend the 237-mile Katy Trail bicycle path into the Kansas City area.


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