Reynolds County: Political pressure prolonging probe

Friday, July 20, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Elected officials in the county where a mountaintop reservoir collapsed are expressing concern about an Environmental Protection Agency investigation into the incident, claiming political pressure is delaying a resolution to the case.

Federal prosecutor Catherine Hanaway said Thursday that her office asked the EPA to monitor the situation shortly after the Taum Sauk reservoir failed in December 2005 -- a standard request, not influenced by any political pressure.

The collapse unleashed more than a billion gallons of water on Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, seriously injuring the park superintendent's family.

Ameren Corp. agreed to pay a $15 million federal fine for the accident at its hydroelectric plant, and Attorney General Jay Nixon is pursuing civil penalties in state court. The Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, and the EPA are conducting their own investigations into the reservoir collapse.

Reynolds County officials, who depend on Ameren's property taxes for their public schools, have expressed concerns in the past that the lengthy investigations were delaying a settlement with Ameren -- and thus delaying the building of the reservoir and a guarantee of continued tax revenue.

The three Reynolds County commissioners, its clerk and its assessor sent a letter dated Monday to Hanaway expressing concern about the EPA's investigation. The letter was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

The commissioners suggested federal authorities should quickly review the previous investigation materials instead of starting from scratch.

"The appearance of political pressure to keep this investigation ongoing is becoming apparent," said the letter signed by Presiding Commissioner Donald Barnes, commissioners Doug Warren and Wayne Henson, Clerk Mike Harper and Assessor Rick Parker.

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