Judge OKs settlement after Taum Sauk reservoir collapse

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A judge in Reynolds County has approved a settlement in which Ameren Corp. agreed to pay $180 million in cash and property for the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse of 2005.

The settlement to compensate the state was reached in November, but Circuit Judge William Seay signed off on the agreement Wednesday in a Centerville courtroom, much to the relief of rural residents who count on Ameren's tax dollars.

"I would say it's a gift from God," Reynolds County Presiding Commissioner Donald Barnes said.

The agreement ended a lawsuit from Attorney General Jay Nixon and settled all other state demands for compensation. It ended months of negotiations between the St. Louis-based company, which is rebuilding the facility, and three state agencies.

The reservoir collapsed because of faulty equipment that Ameren delayed repairing. The resulting flood injured a family of five and devastated the popular Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

Tom Voss, AmerenUE's president and chief executive officer, said the company was pleased to resolve the matter and to end the uncertainty that residents of Reynolds and Iron counties faced following the breach.

"From day one, we expressed deep regret for this disaster and assumed responsibility for the effects of the Taum Sauk plant breach," he said in a statement. "We have committed our leadership, our employees and our financial resources to righting what went wrong."

Barnes said the community had feared that the Lesterville public school, which offers kindergarten through grade 12, could not have remained open if Ameren had not planned to rebuild.

"It's going to be such a shot in the arm for us. Little counties have it rough anyway," he said.

Barnes said Ameren has paid roughly $860,000 in taxes a year to Reynolds County. The money supports the Lesterville school district and helps pay for roads, bridges and other county services.

Still unresolved is a lawsuit filed in December by the Missouri Parks Association, seeking to stop the reconstruction. It wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to more adequately study the environmental effect of reopening the hydroelectric plant or alternatives to rebuilding it.

The reservoir's rebuilding will be a massive effort as Ameren tears down the basin's old earthen walls, then grinds up the material and uses it to make a cement structure the company promises will be safe.

Ameren Vice President Mark Birk has said the project is expected to cost more than $450 million and will be completed in late 2009.

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