Letting the public in

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The failure of AmerenUE's Taum Sauk reservoir in December 2005 has been investigated, probed and analyzed over the months since the disaster sent a billion-plus gallons of water through Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. The park reopened to visitors this summer, and Ameren officials thought the official inquiries had come to an end.

However, the Missouri Public Service Commission decided to hold hearings on the events of December 2005, and the resulting testimony has given the public an insight into what went on before the reservoir collapsed and in the hours and days immediately afterward. Much of the information has been eye-opening.

Unlike the official investigations that considered whether or not there had been any criminal or civil wrongdoing, the PSC hearings have had more of the tone of a conversation with the individuals who know the most about what did -- or did not -- happen at the Taum Sauk generating facility. (Water is drawn from a lake at the bottom of a mountain and pumped to the reservoir on top. The water is then released through tunnels to generate electricity.)

PSC officials say the hearings are an attempt to evaluate safety problems at Ameren. Attorney General Jay Nixon has already announced he does not intend to file any state criminal charges against Ameren as a result of the reservoir collapse. The Environmental Protection Agency, however, has begun a criminal investigation.

Through it all, the public's best understanding of what happened and why has come from the public testimony given at the PSC hearings. The PSC is to be commended for providing this opportunity for complete disclosure.

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