Skip to content

FBI investigates Taum Sauk failure

The Missouri State Highway Patrol on Friday asked for the FBI to help with its investigation of Wednesday’s breach in the Taum Sauk dam.

Members of the Highway Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control, which is the department’s investigative unit, were at the Taum Sauk plant on Friday. They are investigating to determine whether the failure of the dam and the computer-operated equipment was an accident or intentional, said Lt. Tim Hull, spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

Hull said the FBI plans to send computer forensic investigators to examine the computerized equipment. AmerenUE officials have pledged their cooperation with the Highway Patrol’s investigation.

&#8220They will access the security of the computer system to make sure no one has tampered with it,” Hull said. &#8220We are not sure when they will join the investigation.”

Highway Patrol investigators plan to work every day until they can determine whether anyone tampered with equipment or otherwise contributed to the dam failure.

&#8220Working in cooperation with AmerenUE and the FBI, we must assure the citizens of Missouri this incident was accidental,” said Colonel Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. &#8220Considerable state assets were lost and five people were injured. The only way we can determine no criminal conduct occurred is to conduct a thorough investigation.”

The investigation into the cause of the equipment failure and the resulting 600-foot wide and 100-foot deep breach in the dam wall could take months.

Given the significant investment in the facility, the company most likely would want to rebuild the dam. However, until the reason for the dam failure is identified, the company will not know whether it would be cost effective to make repairs, spokesman Mike Cleary said.

AmerenUE does not expect the loss of the dam to affect electricity rates. The plant is one of many factors that keep prices down, Cleary explained.

&#8220This helped our system operate more efficiently,” Cleary said. &#8220But it produced less than 2 or 3 percent of our electricity, so there should be no significant impact on rates or production.”

Electricity costs vary throughout the day, he explained. The most expensive time to buy electricity is during the day, and the least expensive is during the night when demand is down.

Taum Sauk stores power at night by pumping water to an upper reservoir. When AmerenUE needs additional electricity during the day, it takes it from Taum Sauk before producing it through a more expensive operation, or buying it from another source.

The least expensive ways to produce electricity are by using water (as does Taum Sauk), coal or nuclear power, Cleary said.

Built in 1963, Taum Sauk is a &#8220pumped-storage” hydroelectric plant that stores water from the Black River in an upper reservoir, built on top of the 1,590-foot-high Proffit Mountain. The reservoir releases water to generate electricity when additional power is needed. The water flows down a mile-long tunnel inside the mountain, turning turbine-generators to produce electricity. When power demand is low, the turbines run in reverse to pump water back to the reservoir. Equipment is supposed to automatically prevent too much water from flowing back into the reservoir to avoid &#8220overtopping” and creating a situation such as the incident on Wednesday.

Leave a Comment