December 13, 2006
St. Louis, Mo. — Attorney General Jay Nixon today filed a lawsuit against Ameren UE, asking that the state's largest utility company be ordered to pay compensation and punitive damages for its alleged actions and negligence that resulted in the Dec. 14, 2005 breach of the Taum Sauk reservoir in Reynolds County. The release of more than a billion gallons of water from the ruptured mountain-top reservoir caused extensive damage to the nearby east fork of the Black River and Johnson Shut-ins State Park, including the destruction of the park superintendent's home.
"This 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," Nixon said. "Ameren 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."
The lawsuit was filed this morning in St. Louis City Circuit Court. Ameren's corporate headquarters are located in St. Louis.
Until its collapse on Dec. 14, the Taum Sauk reservoir was used to generate electricity for Ameren during peak demand, through the pumping of water from a lower reservoir to the upper reservoir that failed and the draining of water back to the lower reservoir. The lawsuit alleges that Ameren's operation of the Taum Sauk project led directly to the overtopping of the reservoir and its subsequent failure.
The lawsuit also alleges that instruments meant to detect too-high water levels in the reservoir were raised to the point that the probes were above the lowest point of the reservoir parapet, and that computer programming on the probes were changed so that the probes would have to submerged for more than 60 seconds before they shut down the pumps. In late September 2005, the upper reservoir was overtopped, prior to its failure last December.
Nixon said Ameren officials knew that the company's operation of the Taum Reservoir created a high likelihood that the reservoir would overtop, and that the consequences of overtopping could be catastrophic.
"The company's reckless conduct was inexcusable, and only sheer luck prevented a massive loss of life," Nixon said. "An examination of Ameren's operation of the reservoir during the three months prior to its failure can only lead to the conclusion that the company believed that the profit gained from keeping the mountain-top reservoir at maximum capacity was more important than fixing the very serious problems that led to the reservoir's failure."
Nixon said his lawsuit seeks:
Read details of lawsuit, pdf format, 1.1M