Corps sues Ameren over 2005 Taum Sauk breach

Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Damage to Taum Sauk reservoir near Lesterville, Mo., is seen in this Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2005, file photo. (AP Photo/Julie Smith)

ST. LOUIS -- Three years after the breach of the Taum Sauk reservoir, debris from the disaster continues to damage Clearwater Lake and its natural resources, according to a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers against AmerenUE.

The lawsuit filed Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau seeks unspecified damages against the St. Louis-based Ameren, which operated the Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant where the breach occurred.

Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said the utility was not aware of any evidence that sediment from the breach affected the lake. "In fact, our studies show the breach had little or no impact on the lake's operational capacity," she said in a statement Tuesday.

Ameren operated the plant on Profitt Mountain in Southeast Missouri. A breach on Dec. 14, 2005, sent more than 1 billion gallons of water into Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park and the Black River, which feeds Clearwater Lake, a popular Southeast Missouri attraction for hunting, fishing and boating.

The deluge of water injured the superintendent of Johnson's Shut-Ins, his wife and their three children, but all five recovered.

In January, Ameren agreed to a $180 million settlement with the state.

But the corps lawsuit said the breach caused "an unknown amount of sediment and debris to flow into the Black River and be deposited into Clearwater Lake." The lake is about 30 miles south of Taum Sauk.

The corps' Little Rock, Ark., district office owns and maintains Clearwater Lake and its dam in Wayne and Reynolds counties. The lawsuit said that the sediment from the breach has led to reduced storage capacity of Clearwater Lake Reservoir and reduced the life span of the lake project. The suit also said the lake's natural resources have been damaged, but did not elaborate.

The suit said the corps has incurred costs and expenses in the effort to deal with the increased sedimentation.

Calls to an attorney for the corps were not returned.

The collapse of the reservoir was blamed partly on Ameren's delays in repairing faulty instruments, resulting in an overflow of the basin.

Ameren plans to rebuild the Taum Sauk facility and hopes to open it by 2010. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources hopes to reopen all 8,550 acres of Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park next year.

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