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Governor, attorney general disagree about reservoir rupture investigation

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri's governor and attorney general are at odds over who should handle the investigation into a reservoir rupture in Southeast Missouri.

The Dec. 14 rupture at the reservoir at AmerenUE's Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant outside of Lesterville released more than 1 billion gallons of water, causing extensive damage to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, destroying the park superintendent's home and injuring his three children.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Matt Blunt wrote to Attorney General Jay Nixon calling for him to initiate any possible civil or criminal litigation against the utility and to "punish any wrongdoing on the part of AmerenUE or any of its officials."

That led Nixon to inform Missouri Department of Natural Resources director Doyle Childers that the governor had turned over "the investigation and resolution of all legal issues arising out of the Taum Sauk Reservoir's breach" to the attorney general's office. Nixon requested a copy of DNR's findings by the end of the day.

He also insisted that the DNR not communicate with AmerenUE, unless Nixon's office cleared the communication in advance.

Later Tuesday, Blunt told Nixon he had misinterpreted his instructions.

"I did not authorize you to take over any investigation, nor did I authorize you to attempt to usurp any of DNR's authority or stop DNR from communicating with AmerenUE," Blunt wrote.

The governor said he was "dismayed" that Nixon's office ignored attempts by the DNR to set up a meeting with the attorney general's office Tuesday, and that no one from Nixon's office attended a 1 p.m. meeting the DNR had planned.

Nixon, a Democrat, has indicated he intends to run against Blunt, a Republican, for governor in 2008. He issued a statement Tuesday evening through spokesman Scott Holste in response to Blunt's comments.

"I am troubled by the governor's personal involvement in this serious law enforcement matter. We will take our investigation wherever it leads, inside or outside of government."

Blunt's spokesman, Spence Jackson, said it is essential that the DNR be allowed to communicate with AmerenUE as clean-up progresses.

"You can't remove them from the process. It would be irresponsible to keep them from talking to each other," Jackson said.

Blunt's letters Tuesday said a DNR investigation had determined that AmerenUE "may or should have known" about serious problems at the reservoir and did little to avert them.

The reservoir is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which also is investigating the collapse.

AmerenUE has said the reservoir failed after water flowed over the top during the night, eroding the outside wall and causing it to buckle. DNR inspectors found evidence that water had flowed over the top before the night of the failure, spokeswoman Connie Patterson said.

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