Taum Sauk Settlement Reached
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Taum Sauk Settlement Reached

Date: November 28, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Leading environmental organizations are attacking the Taum Sauk settlement announced Wednesday by the state, saying the state should have secured land rights to areas near the flooded site over expanding the Katy Trail.

Former Missouri Parks Association President Susan Flader said ownership of Church Mountain and the Taum Sauk Creek Valley were part of early settlement agreements and received support from Gov. Matt Blunt but were removed from the final settlement.

"All of us feel sold out by this agreement," Flader said.

The state and utility company Ameren reached a $179,750,000 settlement Wednesday regarding the Taum Sauk Reservoir collapse nearly two years ago. The settlement resolves a civil suit filed by the state attorney general and all other state demands for compensation.

The Missouri Parks Association and four other state conservation groups asked that the settlement agreement include purchasing Church Mountain and the Taum Sauk Creek Valley - areas that were once public use and are currently owned by Ameren.

Flader said purchasing the lands would have cost between $1 and $2 million and would add to the St. Francois Mountains Natural Area.

"It's a really bad deal for the state," Flader said. "We feel like the state is giving up on Church Mountain because of the cost of the Katy Trail."

At one time, Ameren had considered building another power-generating facility on Church Mountain.

The settlement agreement includes $18 million for the extension of the Katy Trail through Kansas City. Earlier settlement proposals asked for state ownership of the Rock Island Railroad which would be converted into the Katy Trail.

The accepted settlement offer allows the state to build a trail along a portion of the railroad and allocates money for the construction of the trail.

The governor expressed interest in the purchase of Church Mountain to the Missouri Parks Association in October, but Flader said she thinks the governor had already changed his mind by then.

"I'm sure the governor doesn't want to make things difficult for Ameren," Flader said.

The settlement offer does give the state the right of first refusal if Ameren decides to sell the property within the next 20 years.

"In reality, basically Church Mountain has been owned by us for many, many years," Ameren spokesperson Susan Gallagher said.

Although Ameren was interested in building a power plant on Church Mountain in 2001, Gallagher said currently there are no plans to build on the site.

"We didn't get everything we wanted, but we got most of what we wanted," Blunt said."Completing the Katy Trail has always been a higher priority it terms of the settlement."

Natural Resources Department Director Doyle Childers said the department wanted to gain ownership or a lease of Church Mountain through the settlement but were deterred by the cost.

Childers said the mountain was valued at $66 million and would have taken away from other items the state did receive.

"The Church Mountain deal was part of the area that we really did negotiate very hard for but $66 million dollars was just too much to give up out of the settlement," Childers said. "So all in all we felt in the final countdown that was one thing we had to give up that we'd have liked to have."

Flader said she questions the price cited by Childers and said based on current values for wild-land the areas should not have cost more than $2 million.If the cost had come up in court it wouldn't be substantiated she said.

"It's a terribly bad deal," Flader said.

The settlement, which must still gain final approval in Reynolds County Circuit Court, requires Ameren to spend a total of $103 million in restoring the park and requires the company to rebuild the reservoir.

Additionally, the utility company must pay nearly $70 million in natural resources damages, including extending the Katy Trail to Kansas City, and $5 million for education in Reynolds County.

"Essentially insurance is expected to cover substantially all the settlement costs and also the cost of rebuilding the upper reservoir at Taum Sauk," Gallagher said.

Flader said that is part of the reason the Missouri Parks Association is unhappy with the settlement.

"Ameren is receiving insurance money, they're not paying a penny out of their own pocket and they're putting an exorbitant price tag on that mountain," Flader said. "Ameren gave up nothing and the state is getting little in return."

As a part of the settlement Ameren is not allowed to pass the monetary cost to ratepayers.

"We have said repeatedly that we would not attempt to recover from rate payers any of the settlement amount to the state parties," Gallagher said.

Gallagher said the cost of enhancements made while rebuilding the plant that are not related to the 2005 breach may be passed on to ratepayers.

Before court approval, citizens have 30 days to send comments about the settlement to the Department of Natural Resources. These comments  will be considered in any changes made to the settlement agreement.

Flader said the conservation groups plan on submitting comments but do not expect the plan to change.

"They know what our position is and they've caved," Flader said. "They obviously have another agenda."

The State forfeited their right to appeal any changes as a part of the settlement agreement.

"[Nixon] wouldn't sign the settlement agreement unless we removed the ability of us to appeal changes in the settlement," Childers said. "In this case the attorney general could basically change the settlement around from what was agreed to and I'm not sure what we could do about it."

Part of the two year delay in the settlement agreement came from the several state agencies involved in the discussions including the Governor's Office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Attorney General's office. The agencies argued for many months about the best way to handle the agreement and what provisions should be included.

The Taum Sauk Reservoir collapsed in December 2005, injuring a family of five and flooding Johnson's Shut-ins State Park with 1.3 billion gallons of water. The reservoir was part of a hydroelectric plant that need repairs and had faulty equipment which caused the reservoir to overflow.