DNR workers carving new park from rubble

Friday, February 10, 2006

The recovery team has removed more than 3,000 dump-truck loads of sediment and 1,625 truckloads of dead trees.

LESTERVILLE, Mo. -- Cleaning up Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park seems out of the question. So, to lure tourists back this summer, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is carving a new park from the rubble.

The agency had little choice. Huge swaths of the popular camping destination are buried under a carpet of mud, boulders and splintered tree trunks that swept over the park Dec. 14 after the Taum Sauk reservoir collapsed.

"There's a lot of work to do to make it look like a state park again," said Greg Combs, a field operations manager for DNR.

Combs led media on a tour of the park Thursday, guiding reporters past burning piles of dead trees, flooded park restrooms and drifts of mud.

About 60 people are working full time to recover the park, Combs said. Most are employed by Ameren Corp., the St. Louis-based energy company that owns the Taum Sauk reservoir.

The recovery team has removed more than 3,000 dump-truck loads of sediment and 1,625 truckloads of dead trees from the park, said Jackson Bostic, ombudsman for the DNR. While much of the work is being done with earth-moving machinery, work crews with shovels were digging away dirt from environmentally sensitive areas.

The department hasn't yet estimated a clean-up cost for the recovery, but Bostic said taxpayers won't foot the bill.

"Ameren's paying for every penny of everything out here," he said. The company will reimburse the state for wages it pays to clean the park, he said.

DNR director Doyle Childers has said the topography of Johnson's Shut-Ins was changed forever by mud, debris and flood waters that cascaded through the park.

Ameren has said previously it will accept full responsibility for the flood damage. The company is working with DNR to clean up the park and the nearby Black River.

Taum Sauk reservoir sits atop Proffit Mountain, near the park. Water was pumped up the mountainside into the reservoir, and is later released to generate electricity. Ameren officials have said it is believed that mechanical errors caused the reservoir to overflow, eroding the reservoir's earthen wall and causing it to collapse.

The breach sent more than 1 billion gallons of water washing over Johnson's Shut-Ins, and damaged thousands of additional acres in mostly rural Reynolds County. The home of park superintendent Jerry Toops was washed away, and his three young children were hospitalized.

An investigation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues.

One area of the park left largely undamaged by the deluge was the scenic canyon of waterfalls and rock-lined pools that draws thousands of campers and hikers during the summer months. The floodwaters dumped most of the sediment upstream and left the rocky narrows undamaged.

The DNR also hosted a public meeting at Lesterville Public School on Thursday to apprise residents of cleanup efforts. The agency said it was the third public meeting since the reservoir of the utility's hydroelectric plant failed.

Gov. Matt Blunt said Ameren should pay all costs associated with the cleanup. Attorney General Jay Nixon is conducting a criminal investigation into the collapse.

On the Net:

AmerenUE: www.ameren.com

Missouri Department of Natural Resources: http://www.dnr.mo.gov/

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