Ameren officials to testify at PSC hearing on Taum Sauk

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Six Ameren Corp. employees, including a company vice president, were scheduled to testify Tuesday during an investigative hearing into the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse.

The Missouri Public Service Commission hearing in Jefferson City marks the first time Ameren officials have testified publicly before utility regulators about the December 2005 collapse that sent more than 1 billion gallons of water over a portion of Reynolds County in southeast Missouri. The flood badly damaged Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park and injured the park superintendent, his wife and three children.

The PSC launched an investigation in June, after the release of a Missouri State Highway Patrol report concerning Ameren's operations at the Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant before and after the incident.

The report said Ameren employees, or an outside contractor hired by the company, adjusted critical safety gauges at the reservoir so that the gauges were effectively disabled the morning of the collapse. Then, those gauges were removed immediately after the collapse.

PSC spokesman Mark Hughes said the hearing will begin with testimony from James Alexander, dam safety chief for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Alexander told The Associated Press last month that when Ameren employees removed the safety gauges, they essentially tampered with key evidence.

PSC staff members said the commission wants to discover if Ameren put profits ahead of safety at the plant, and if there might be a risk of similar accidents at the utility's other facilities in Missouri, according to filings for the investigation.

Hughes said Ameren employees scheduled to testify include: Mark Birk, vice president of power operations; consulting engineer Steve Bluemner; Taum Sauk manager David Fitzgerald; consulting engineer Tom Pierie; generation coordinator Steve Schoolcraft; and hydro operations manager Warren Witt.

The commission will also hear testimony from Tony Zamberlan, and outside contractor that Ameren hired to adjust the safety gauges.

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