Attorney general clears criminal decks, brings $500m deal closer

Legal News Line May 18, 2007, 11:00am

Jay Nixon

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has removed another roadblock to reaching a civil settlement over a disastrous dam collapse nearly one and a half years ago. Nixon announced in a press release Friday that he would no longer pursue criminal charges with utility Ameren over its Taum Sauk hydroelectric dam-burst. His statement followed a long-anticipated meeting held today with Gov. Matt Blunt. The attorney general had been feuding with Gov. Blunt and his bureaucrats since the dam collapse in 2005. The state has been unable to reach a settlement with Ameren over Taum Sauk largely because Nixon had threatened criminal charges against Ameren. Nixon said he made his decision Friday after reviewing a Highway Patrol investigative report and meeting with Blunt and the family affected by the collapse of the St. Louis-based company's reservoir. "I accept the Patrol's assessment that there is no suspect in this case," Nixon stated. "Therefore, the state will not pursue criminal charges" over dam's collapse. Blunt and Nixon buried the hatchet over Taum Sauk last week after Blunt responded favorably to a letter Nixon sent Ameren about settlement terms, LegalNewsLine reported. Blunt hailed Nixon's decision in a statement today. He said Missouri was now "a step closer to a unified state position in resolving the remaining issues with the Ameren Taum Sauk disaster." "Now that the Attorney General has announced his decision in the criminal case I believe we are closer than ever to a settlement that allows Missouri to move forward." Nixon's decision Friday has moved the possibility of a joint state settlement between Nixon and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) a step closer. Nixon and DNR head Doyle Childers had been pursuing separate civil suits over the disaster. In Friday's statement Nixon said any such settlenment must include rebuilding the reservoir more safely, recompense communities harmed by the spillover and protection for ratepayers. Blunt's release said Missouri is seeking a civil settlement from Ameren of more than $500 million total, plus the value of a nearby railroad and mountain. Nixon will almost certainly be the Democratic Party's challenger to Blunt in next year's Missouri gubernatorial election.

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