DNR proposes settlement over Taum Sauk

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Nearly a year after Ameren Corp.'s Taum Sauk reservoir burst, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has offered a settlement proposal to the St. Louis-based utility company, DNR officials said Tuesday.

As part of the proposal, Ameren would either give to the state or allow the state to use a mountain it owns near the site of the reservoir collapse and a stretch of railroad right-of-way the company owns in western Missouri.

Financial details were not released, but DNR officials said terms of the settlement would include civil penalties for water quality violations that resulted from the breach; compensation to the state for damage to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park; compensation for recreational use losses; and assurances that Ameren will take steps to protect water quality and pay for continued restoration efforts.

"The department felt it was important to let the public know where we're at in this process," said Kurt Schaefer, DNR's deputy director. "We've been getting a lot of inquiry because it's coming up on the one-year anniversary."

Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said in a statement, "We did receive the settlement proposal and are interested in resolving these matters with all state parties."

But Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon was critical of the DNR's proposed settlement.

"While these projects put forth by DNR that are as far as 200 miles from Taum Sauk may be interesting and worthy, this wish list from bureaucrats at this time complicates matters and does not address adequate compensation for those who live and work closest to where the disaster occurred," Nixon said.

The reservoir at Ameren's Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant, which sits atop Profitt Mountain in southeast Missouri, breached on Dec. 14, 2005, causing more than 1 billion gallons of water to engulf Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

The park superintendent and his family were knocked out of their home by the raging water, but survived. No one else was hurt, but the park was badly damaged, as were thousands of acres in the region, including parts of the Black River.

In the spring, Gov. Blunt directed DNR to consider "creative" ways that Ameren could compensate the state. As part of the settlement proposal, Ameren would either give up or share two properties that DNR officials believe could provide ample recreation -- the old Rock Island Railroad corridor and Church Mountain, both of which are owned by Ameren.

The rail corridor covers 47 miles and runs from the west-central Missouri town Windsor west to Pleasant Hills, near Kansas City.

Schaefer said the rail line could be turned into a biking and hiking path similar to the Katy Trail. In fact, DNR could connect the two, meaning patrons could virtually cross the state on a path. The Katy Trail starts in St. Charles, near St. Louis, and covers more 225 miles, ending in Clinton, near Sedalia.

"There's been a lot of interest expressed in the Kansas City area that if the trail could get to Pleasant Hills, a number of interested parties would like to extend it into Kansas City," Schaefer said.

Church Mountain sits next to Profitt Mountain. Ameren owns the entire 1,400-acre mountain and has considered building another hydroelectric plant on top of it, though those plans have been withdrawn, Gallagher said.

DNR would use Church Mountain for undetermined recreational uses, Schaefer said.

The settlement proposal involves only civil claims brought by DNR. A spokesman for Nixon said criminal charges are still under consideration.

Schaefer said Ameren moved quickly in the months after the breach to help clean up the area, but things slowed in the fall. For example, he noted that DNR on Sept. 12 approved a plan to restore the east fork of the Black River inside the state park.

"To date, actual work on that by Ameren has not started," Schaefer said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: