Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit Dec. 13 against AmerenUE, seeking damages for the December 2005 breach of the utility’s 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped-storage project.
The lawsuit, filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court, asks that the state’s largest utility company be ordered to pay compensation and punitive damages for actions and negligence.
Taum Sauk has not operated since the dam of its upper reservoir breached Dec. 14, 2005, releasing 1.4 billion gallons of water, injuring nine people, and damaging property. Ameren has said Taum Sauk (No. 2277) will remain closed through 2008, and perhaps longer, while it evaluates whether to rebuild.
ï¿½This was one of the worst man-made disasters in Missouri’s history, and our lawsuit alleges a long history of decisions by Ameren and its employees that led to this catastrophe,ï¿½ Nixon said. ï¿½Ameren needs to be held fully accountable for its reckless conduct in this matter, and made to pay appropriate compensation and penalties to make the state and those negatively affected by its actions whole.ï¿½
The lawsuit alleges Ameren’s operation of the project led directly to overtopping of the reservoir and its subsequent failure. The filing alleges instruments meant to detect high water levels in the reservoir were improperly positioned and programmed.
Nixon said the lawsuit seeks:
o Actual damages for the state that would include natural resources damages, including restoration of the Black River;
o Punitive damages on grounds the company acted with complete indifference to, or conscious disregard for, others’ safety;
o Restitution for local residents and businesses that suffered financial loss because of Ameren’s actions; and
o An order for Ameren to pay the state’s costs for investigating and prosecuting the case.
An investigation 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.
Ameren offered settlement, funded restoration
AmerenUE already has agreed to a settlement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that calls for payment of $15 million, including a $10 million civil penalty. (HNN 11/7/06)
Ameren Chairman Gary Rainwater said the utility was disappointed by the state’s lawsuit.
ï¿½We have been meeting with representatives of the state since April with the goal of reached a negotiated settlement, and we hope that this does not mean negotiations will cease,ï¿½ he said.
Rainwater said the company made a ï¿½very significantï¿½ offer to settle all liabilities but despite good faith efforts it had not received a unified offer from appropriate state agencies.
ï¿½Failure to resolve the state’s claims in a timely fashion will delay rebuilding of the Taum Sauk facility, with negative economic consequences for the citizens of Reynolds County and the rest of the state of Missouri,ï¿½ Rainwater said.
Rainwater said the company has made ï¿½enormous progressï¿½ restoring the park below the breached reservoir in the year since the failure. He said AmerenUE already has invested more than $20 million in the clean-up and restoration of Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and in the improvement in water quality in the Black River.
He said the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide promotional support to tourism-dependent business in the project area.