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Ameren denies tampering claim

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By AP/KWMU

St. Louis, MO – The chief operating officer of St. Louis-based Ameren said Wednesday the utility did not tamper with evidence when its employees removed crucial safety gauges at the Taum Sauk reservoir immediately after it collapsed.

"I cannot emphasize strongly enough that our entire focus after the incident was to first assure the safety of all concerned and then try to determine what led to the breach," said Tom Voss, in a statement.

Voss took particular aim at James Alexander, the head of dam safety for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Alexander said Monday that Ameren's actions amounted to tampering with important evidence in the reservoir collapse, which was one of the worst man-made disasters in Missouri history.

Alexander told The Associated Press that Ameren engineers removed the gauges before they allowed him and other DNR inspectors into the Taum Sauk facility after it collapsed Dec. 15, 2005. Because Ameren removed the probes, investigators might never know how negligent the company had been in operating the facility, Alexander said.

Voss disputed that assessment.

"Alexander's own staff submitted a report within days of the incident acknowledging that our engineers voluntarily shared details of all actions around the collapse," Voss said in the statement.

Once crucial detail Ameren didn't share was the identity of the person who removed the probes, said DNR deputy director Kurt Schaefer.

"To the best of my knowledge, no one has said who raised the probes to a level where they did not work at all, and no one knows who removed those probes before they could evaluated to see where they were set to," Schaefer said.

A recently released report from the Missouri Highway Patrol shows that Ameren managers admitted the probes were removed, but never said who removed them. Managers also said the probes had been raised so high up the reservoir wall that they no longer worked, but did not say who did that.

Ameren declined to make Voss available for an interview. Alexander did not return a message seeking comment.

The so-called Warrick Probes were set along the top of the mountaintop reservoir, and were designed to shut the plant down and prevent an overflow if water ever reached them.

But Ameren moved the probes high enough that they were dry the morning the reservoir overflowed and collapsed. Alexander said the probes were sitting in a bucket downhill from the reservoir when he arrived there, so it was impossible to tell just how high the probes had been set.

The Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies, has reopened its investigation into the collapse after learning the probes were removed, said Chairman Jeff Davis.

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