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Labadie Residents Win One Legal Challenge Against Ameren's Coal Ash Landfill ― And File Another

Véronique LaCapra, St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 7/25/14 with information on a new lawsuit.

The Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) has filed another lawsuit in their long-running campaign to prevent Ameren from building a coal ash landfill in Franklin County.

The suit was filed this week against the Franklin County Board of Zoning Adjustment (BOZA), in the state Circuit Court of Franklin County. It alleges that Ameren's landfill would not comply with county zoning regulations, which require that the landfill's liner be at least two feet above the natural water table.

You can find out more about that issue here.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, LEO won an earlier legal challenge against Ameren's coal ash landfill plans, that one, in the Missouri Court of Appeals.

That case will now go to the Missouri Supreme Court.

It challenges the Franklin County Commission's decision to change county zoning regulations to allow coal ash landfills.

That Oct. 2011 decision opened the door for Ameren to build a new coal ash landfill adjacent to its Labadie power plant. Opponents, including LEO and others, have said that building the landfill in the floodplain of the Missouri River could threaten area drinking water supplies.

In their appeal, LEO maintained that the County's zoning amendments were illegal because the Commission failed to conduct valid public hearings. They also contended that the amendments did not promote "the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Franklin County" ― a county regulatory requirement.

"We're not just talking about the impacts to the Labadie floodplain and to the citizens that live closest to the Labadie power plant...this has implications for the whole state." -Patricia Schuba

The appeals court agreed, reversing a Franklin County Circuit Court decision which had allowed the zoning changes to stand.

Rather than return the case to the lower court, the appeals court elevated it to the Missouri Supreme Court "because of the general interest of the question posed by this case."

LEO president Patricia Schuba said she sees that decision as a positive sign. "Because we're not just talking about the impacts to the Labadie floodplain and to the citizens that live closest to the Labadie power plant," Schuba said. "This has implications for the whole state."

Ameren was poised to start building its coal ash landfill in Labadie as soon as the Missouri Department of Natural Resources approved the company's request for a construction permit.

But in order for the state to issue that permit, Ameren first needs approval at the county level. This latest court decision seems to call into question the county's earlier approval of the landfill.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the agency was reviewing the court opinion to determine what, if any, effect it would have on the permit application review process.

Ameren is a co-defendant in the case with Franklin County. The company's Vice President of Environmental Services, Mike Menne, called the court's decision "narrow and procedural."  He said Ameren is continuing to study the court's decision, but that the company remains committed to building the coal ash landfill and "transitioning coal ash management at Labadie Energy Center to a modern and state-of-the-art facility."

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience