Johnson's Shut-Ins park will stay closed this summer

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park will not be open this summer because of damage from the Taum Sauk Reservoir collapse, a move that could hurt a region economically dependent on tourists drawn to the popular park.

Johnson's Shut-Ins was devastated in December 2005 when Ameren Corp.'s reservoir failed and sent one billion gallons of water rushing through the area, injuring a family of five and burying much of the park under five feet of soil.

The park was partially opened last year while crews cleaned up a nearby river and did environmental cleanup. But it must shut down entirely this season so repair work can begin on the park, said Missouri Department of Natural Resources Deputy Director Kurt Schaefer.

"It does not appear to us there is any chance that the park will be open," Schaefer said. "There's nothing for the public, there's not access to the Shut-Ins and there are no services available."

Johnson's Shut-Ins is the cornerstone of a tourist-based economy in surrounding Reynolds County. Last summer, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., toured the area and visited business owners. Many of them complained about losing customers as visitation to the park dwindled.

Tourists were able last summer to walk along a wooden bridge and observe the shut-ins, which are natural pools held within a valley of giant boulders. Before the collapse visitors could swim in the pools, which drew more than 200,000 visitors each summer.

The DNR approved Ameren's plan to repair the park more than a month ago, Schaefer said. The plan would clean up the shut-ins, rebuild sewer lines for public bathrooms and replace a campground at the park.

Schaefer said Ameren will not begin implementing the repair plan until it settles all claims with the state over damage from the reservoir collapse.

Ameren has been caught in a fight between DNR and Attorney General Jay Nixon. Both parties claim to be holding settlement talks with the company, and Nixon is conducting a criminal investigation into the collapse.

DNR has proposed Ameren pay more than $125 million to the state to settle all claims over the collapse. Nixon is suing the company and the lawsuit does not specify the amount of damages being sought.

Neither Nixon's office nor Ameren returned messages seeking comment Tuesday morning.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: