Ameren gets OK to rebuild reservoir

Thursday, August 16, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- Federal regulators Wednesday cleared Ameren Corp. to begin rebuilding its Taum Sauk mountaintop reservoir, which collapsed in 2005, sending a torrent of water into a state park in southeast Missouri.

Ameren was notified that it could move forward in a letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But FERC, which regulates the reservoir, is requiring Ameren to undertake various measures to minimize the impact of construction on park users and the environment.

They're outlined in a final environmental assessment and reflect concerns raised by the public. They include a reforestation plan, reducing effects on wetlands, and providing limited recreational opportunities at the lower reservoir.

The letter stated that Ameren's final design plans and specifications must be approved first. Also, the utility must provide a plan and schedule for refilling the reservoir, among other things.

While the authorization is a significant step, and one that Ameren said it is pleased to have received, the company said it can't begin rebuilding until it settles a lawsuit with the state over liabilities from the reservoir's breach.

The reservoir, which feeds a nearby hydroelectric plant, collapsed in December 2005, devastating the nearby Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park and injuring a family of five.

"We expressed our intent to rebuild in February, but that was assuming settlement with the state," Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said.

Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit last year alleging Ameren placed profits over safety in its operation of the Taum Sauk reservoir. It seeks unspecified damages, including compensation for the state park.

The state Department of Natural Resources is working with Nixon to come up with a settlement for the lawsuit.

Also, the Public Service Commission is conducting an investigation into the reservoir's collapse.

In its filing with FERC in February, the utility said it planned to start construction of the reservoir this year and expected it to be up and running by 2009. The plans assumed resolving matters with the state.

Ameren hasn't released the estimated cost of rebuilding but said insurance should pay for most of it.

Environmental regulators and activists criticized parts of Ameren's plan to rebuild the reservoir in public comments submitted to FERC in July.

The comments focused on FERC's assessment of the environmental impact of Ameren's plan to rebuild the 55-acre reservoir.

Environmental groups submitted comments that questioned whether the reservoir should be rebuilt at all.

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