Ameren selects company to rebuild reservoir

Thursday, November 8, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- Ameren Corp. has selected a contractor to rebuild its Taum Sauk reservoir in Southeast Missouri, but said construction can't begin until the utility reaches a settlement with state agencies over the reservoir's collapse in 2005.

Ameren announced Wednesday it hired Ozark Constructors to rebuild the mountaintop reservoir, which held more than one billion gallons of water to power a hydroelectric plant in a valley below it. The reservoir collapsed because of faulty equipment that Ameren delayed repairing and the resulting flood injured a family of five and devastated the popular Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

Ameren has been negotiating for months to come to a settlement with three state agencies that would repay Missouri for millions of dollars in damages from the collapse. Attorney General Jay Nixon, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Conservation have declined to comment on specific aspects of the settlement talks, as has Ameren.

A recent court filing suggests the parties are close to reaching the settlement, which would end a civil lawsuit Nixon filed last year. The appeals court motion filed by the DNR last month, said: "All parties to this matter are in the final stages of negotiating a settlement, which if and when completed, will moot this appeal."

The Taum Sauk plant was a profitable one for Ameren because it generated power on short notice when market prices were high. Coal and nuclear plants, which produce much more electricity, take more time to turn on and off.

The original reservoir was built from rock and soil and gave way when the reservoir overflowed and water eroded its walls.

Ameren's new plans call for a cement-walled facility that wouldn't collapse if it overflowed.

Ameren chief operating officer Thomas Voss said the company's Missouri subsidiary, called AmerenUE, will make safety a top priority for the new facility.

"AmerenUE would not consider returning this plant to service if company officials were not absolutely certain that they new design met, or exceeded, all safety criteria required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission" which oversees the plant, he said in a statement.

Ameren has spent more than $40 million rebuilding the park and cleaning up environmental damage from the collapse, according to the company.

Ozark Constructors is a partnership between Pueblo, Colo.-based ASI Constructors Inc. and St. Louis-based Fred Weber Inc. ASI specializes in building dams.

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