Engineer: Ameren repeatedly denied repair request

Thursday, July 26, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- An Ameren Corp. engineer testified Wednesday that he tried day after day to get approval to fix water level sensors at the Taum Sauk reservoir but was repeatedly denied by the company several weeks before the reservoir failed.

Project engineer Steve Bluemner said he became aware Oct. 3, 2005, that some of the reservoir's water-level gauges had broken free from the reservoir wall and were floating with the water, resulting in inaccurate readings.

Bluemner said he had a repair designed and materials ready by Oct. 27, 2005, but an Ameren power supply supervisor denied his request to partially drain the reservoir the next day so he could make the repairs. Bluemner said he was told to check back the next day.

He made a similar request for four more straight days -- even calling from home on a Sunday -- and each time was denied by Ameren supervisors who determine which power plants to run on given days. Eventually, Bluemner said he focused his attention on another project at a different Ameren facility and ceased making the daily repair requests.

The problem still had not been repaired when the hydroelectric plant pumped too much water into the mountaintop reservoir on Dec. 14, 2005, causing water to flow over the top, erode the base and collapse part of the wall. The resulting torrent of 1.3 billion gallons of water washed out Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, seriously injuring the park superintendent's family.

Bluemner testified in the second day of a Missouri Public Service Commission hearing into events leading to the reservoir failure.

Commissioner Lin Appling chastised Bluemner -- and Ameren's corporate structure -- for seeking and needing approval for the repairs from "the financial part" of the St. Louis-based company instead of those in charge of safety.

"I have to use this as the classic mistake that was made," Appling said. "It leaves a lump in my throat that this did not get the attention it should have."

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