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'I'm out of options': St. Charles announces lawsuit against Ameren Missouri over wellfield contamination

Lawyers said the goal of the lawsuit is to ensure Ameren Missouri pays for the cleanup of the contamination and doesn't pass on the cost to St. Charles residents.

ST CHARLES, Mo. — St. Charles Mayor Dan Borgmeyer announced a lawsuit against Ameren Missouri over contamination at the city's wellfields.

Borgmeyer said the city is working with local law firms Dowd Bennett LLP and Blitz, Bardgett, & Deutsch, L.C. to sue Ameren Missouri. Borgmeyer was joined in the press conference by former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who is a partner at Dowd Bennett.

"The reason I'm here [today] is because I'm out of options," Borgmeyer said. "I've tried everything, we've done all could and we are to the point now where the governor and his law firm are going to take charge of this and make sure we follow the right path down the future."

Last month, the City of St. Charles announced the closure of City Well No. 7, meaning the city had shut down six of its seven wells due to traces of 1,2-dichloroethene and vinyl chloride.

To combat a drinking water shortage, the city has been purchasing millions of gallons of water daily from the City of St. Louis instead of producing its own at a lower cost.

Environmental Protection Agency test results revealed an Ameren substation was the source of the water contamination and said the electric company would be required to clean it up.

Nixon said the goal of the lawsuit was to make sure Ameren Missouri pays for the cleanup of the contamination and make sure that cost is not passed on to St. Charles residents. They also want to get Ameren to pay the city back for the additional costs it has incurred by buying drinking water to supplement its own supply.

"We've been retained to deal with state law damage claims, not the CERCLA side, state law damage claims," Nixon said.

Mayor Borgmeyer wouldn’t go into dollar amounts but so far the city has been using the emergency water fund to deal with the extra expense of additional water from St. Louis and other measures instead of putting it on the customers.

"We have spent a great deal of money on our efforts to keep our drinking water safe, and now we are currently in the process of spending even more to put into place the treatment components at our water facility necessary to treat the water that Ameren has been found by the EPA to have contaminated," Borgmeyer said.

An Ameren Missouri spokesperson gave 5 On Your Side a letter they sent to the city detailing their plan and timeline to make it happen. The letter said in part “The City’s proposed additional work to build a carbon filtration system for the City’s drinking water treatment plant would serve no environmental or public health purpose, other than potentially to provide a level of protection for other contaminants that are unrelated to Ameren.”

Ameren says it would not be beneficial to move the well field and the remediation work will reach EPA standards.

Dr. Ray Ferrara, an independent consultant Ameren hired, said any type of source water will always have contamination.

“In my opinion it’s effectively impossible to have drinking water devoid of all chemicals," Ferrara said.

The letter is asking for coordination and input from the city.

St. Charles Clean Water Advocate Kara Elms says it appears that collaboration isn’t happening.

"I'd like these access issues solved. I mean, really, it needs to be negotiated and Ameren needs to be allowed on their property," Elms said.

Borgmeyer said lawyers are still sorting through evidence and have not filed the official lawsuit yet.

He said the law firms will only be paid if the lawsuit is successful and that money will come for the lawsuit award.

Dowd Bennett LLP and Blitz, Bardgett, & Deutsch, L.C. were the same law firms that represented St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority in the lawsuit against the Rams.

Ameren provided the following statement in response to Tuesday's announcement (text was put in bold by Ameren):

"We believe our shared goal is to continue protecting the drinking water supply. The best way to do that is to work together, as we recently detailed in a letter to the City of St. Charles where we identify a detailed plan of action moving forward. Ameren Missouri has already implemented several aggressive treatment techniques with additional steps to be taken soon. All work is approved and overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A coordinated, planned and predictable approach will give this work the most efficient path to success. A copy of Ameren's proposal and communication to the city from earlier this week can be found on our website, AmerenMissouri.com/StCharles. 

"According to the EPA: 'St. Charles' drinking water supply meets the drinking water health standards established by Missouri's Safe Drinking Water Law and EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act. Water distributed to the public after treatment at the city's water treatment plant has been sampled regularly for VOCs, including vinyl chloride and DCE, since 2008 and has never shown any level of contamination.'"

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