UPDATE - Missouri group sues FERC to block rebuild of 408-MW Taum Sauk

The Missouri Parks Association has filed suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and utility AmerenUE accusing FERC of failure to conduct an adequate environmental review of a plan to rebuild the breached upper reservoir of the 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped-storage project.

St. Louis-based Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed the lawsuit Dec. 11 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the 2,400-member group of parks enthusiasts.

AmerenUE and the state of Missouri signed a settlement agreement in November in which AmerenUE will pay $177.35 million in compensation and remediation of the 2005 breach of the upper reservoir. (HNN 11/29/07)

Taum Sauk (No. 2277) has not operated since the reservoir's ring dam breached Dec. 14, 2005, releasing 1.4 billion gallons of water down the Black River, injuring nine people, and damaging property, including Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. A Missouri Public Service Commission investigation cited a failure of utility management for the breach.

The Missouri Parks Association lawsuit argues that FERC's order allowing AmerenUE to rebuild the project, to state-of-the-art standards, included a defective environmental assessment and a finding of no significant impact rather than a full environmental impact statement. FERC said it would conduct a full environmental review of Taum Sauk as part of its relicensing process, to be completed by 2010.

"By then Ameren will have spent millions upon millions of dollars to rebuild the facility, making it virtually impossible for FERC to objectively evaluate alternatives to the project," a statement by the association said.

Injunction sought to force court-reviewed environmental study

Despite the fact that AmerenUE is to rebuild the mountaintop ring dam in the same place, to the same height, with more dependable roller-compacted concrete, the MPA argued FERC should have evaluated all reasonable alternatives and foreseeable impacts from both construction and operation of the facility.

"FERC's actions concerning the reconstruction of the Taum Sauk project have caused and will continue to cause injury to MPA's members, in part, by leading to the reduction or elimination of wildlife and wildlife habitat that members will no longer be able to view in the affected area, the reduction of the quality and quantity of the water and degradation of aquatic ecosystems in Missouri Outstanding State Resource Waters in the affected area, and the inability to view Proffit Mountain as a mountain but instead as a flat-topped concrete reservoir," the petition said.

The group asked the court to permanently enjoin FERC and AmerenUE from proceeding with reconstruction until FERC prepares an adequate environmental assessment, whose sufficiency is to be determined by the court.

AmerenUE said Nov. 7 it hired joint venture Ozark Constructors LLC to rebuild the breached reservoir. Ozark Constructors is a joint venture of Colorado-based heavy civil contractor ASI Constructors Inc. and St. Louis-based Fred Weber Inc., which works in mining, aggregate processing, and heavy civil construction.

The utility also selected Paul Rizzo Associates Inc. as engineer of record and project manager. Rizzo designed a roller-compacted-concrete replacement dam that has been approved by FERC. AmerenUE expects the plant to remain out of service through at least the fall of 2009.

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