Blunt wants Ameren to donate railroad and mountain

Saturday, April 15, 2006

He said the state should be compensated for the loss of natural resources.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt wants Ameren Corp. to give the state a mountain and let it use an old railroad as compensation for the Taum Sauk reservoir failure.

Ameren already is paying to clean up Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, which was washed out when the reservoir break sent more than 1 billion gallons of water flowing down a mountain on Dec. 14.

But Blunt said Friday that the state also should be compensated for the loss of its natural resources -- such as an 80-year-old forest and wildlife habitat -- which could take several generations to return to their previous conditions.

So he asked the departments of Natural Resources and Conservation and the attorney general to pursue some creative compensation options. Specifically, the governor suggests that Ameren could donate to the state Church Mountain, near Taum Sauk Mountain, and allow the state to use Ameren's section of an old Rock Island Railroad bed as part of the Katy Trail State Park.

"These very valuable properties hold great recreational potential for Missouri citizens," Blunt said in a written statement.

Katy Trail State Park already runs from the St. Louis area westward to Windsor, in west-central Missouri. Use of the old Rock Island line would allow the trail to be extended from Windsor to Pleasant Hill, an outer suburb of Kansas City, said the Department of Natural Resources.

The department said it already leases, for little-to-nothing, easements for trails on Church Mountain. But DNR officials said Friday that the trails had not yet been developed, and acquiring the whole mountain would allow the state to fully develop it as a park.

Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said the utility company has no plans to develop Church Mountain itself. But that doesn't mean it wants to just give it away.

"We don't have any plans to donate those assets at this time," Gallagher said. But she added: "Ultimate settlement discussions have not yet begun in earnest."

Ameren already has removed large amounts of sediment from Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, rebuilt boardwalks and is restoring the park's plumbing and store, Gallagher said. Ameren also is paying for an advertising blitz in Missouri and Southern Illinois promoting the other tourism options in the area, she said.

Blunt's administration said it was difficult to put a price on the lost trees, habitat and recreational opportunities at Johnson Shut-Ins, which is why he suggested the donation of property that could be used to expand the state park system.

"Governor Blunt believes it's appropriate for the people of Missouri to be compensated for the intangible costs," said his spokeswoman, Jessica Robinson.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: