Judge: DNR can't intervene in Taum Sauk lawsuit

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- The Department of Natural Resources will not be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed over the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse filed by Missouri's attorney general, a Reynolds County judge said Tuesday.

Attorney General Jay Nixon sued Ameren Corp. in December for damages from the 2005 collapse of the Taum Sauk reservoir, which destroyed much of Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

DNR filed a motion to intervene in the case in January. The agency's position was that it, and not the attorney general, had the legal authority to resolve the matter because it related to clean water issues and property damage to a state park, said the department's deputy director, Kurt Schaefer.

He said the department thinks under the law the natural resources director has the authority to negotiate a settlement on the matter, and disagreed with the judge's decision.

He said the department will evaluate its options.

Nixon said the ruling by Circuit Judge William Camm Seay should help the state's lawsuit to proceed.

"Now that this delay has been removed, I am able to focus our undivided attention on pursuing a proper remedy for Missourians that holds Ameren accountable for putting profits over safety," he said in a statement.

Nixon said Friday he will not pursue criminal charges against Ameren over the reservoir collapse.

Parties involved in the matter met Friday -- including Republican Gov. Matt Blunt and Democrat Nixon, who is Blunt's likely gubernatorial challenger next year. The meeting came weeks after an Ameren official accused DNR and the Attorney General's office of playing "political football" while cleanup from the Taum Sauk reservoir breach languished.

Both sides have said progress was made toward developing a unified state position on the matter.

Ameren has accepted responsibility for the disaster that spilled more than 1 billion gallons of water over the park, devastating the area and seriously injuring a park superintendent's family of five.

Ameren spokesman Tim Fox declined to comment on Tuesday's ruling.

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