AmerenUE to pay $15 million to settle Taum Sauk dam breach

AmerenUE has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that calls for the utility to pay $15 million to address a 2005 breach of the utility’s 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped-storage project.

Part of that payment is a $10 million civil penalty, the largest FERC has ever imposed in a hydroelectric matter. Under the agreement, announced Oct. 2, St. Louis-based AmerenUE also will pay $5 million for improvements in the project area, and adopt a comprehensive safety program for its hydro facilities.

The upper reservoir dam, near Lesterville, Mo., breached Dec. 14, 2005, releasing 1.4 billion gallons of water. FERC said the flood injured nine people and caused environmental and property damage. An investigation by a panel of consultants blamed the breach on overtopping of the dam due to improperly installed and maintained water level monitors and emergency backup sensors, as well as poor construction practices and inadequate attention to dam safety. (HNN 6/6/06)

�The commission’s first duty in hydroelectric regulation is assuring safety,” FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher said. �This penalty should send a message to the industry that the commission expects strict adherence to its rules and regulations �- particularly those involving public safety.�

FERC staff alleged 15 violations

In the AmerenUE proceeding, commission staff alleged the company committed 15 violations of various FERC regulations and license conditions, including failure to notify the commission of conditions affecting the safety of the project and failure to use sound and prudent engineering practices.

In agreeing to the settlement, AmerenUE, a subsidiary of Ameren Corp., neither admitted nor denied the alleged violations. Kelliher noted AmerenUE accepted responsibility for the incident and cooperated fully with commission staff in its investigation.

The civil penalty and $5 million in improvements are in addition to costs AmerenUE will incur in remediating the environmental and property damage caused by the breach, FERC said. The agreement calls for AmerenUE to place $5 million in escrow for improvements in the vicinity of the project, including an enhanced emergency management system for the area.

The dam safety program to be adopted creates a new position of chief dam safety engineer for both AmerenUE projects licensed by FERC. That person will serve as the central contact with the commission for all safety and regulatory matters, and will have the authority to shut down plant operations if safety is compromised.

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