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Court Decision Could Throw A Wrench In Ameren's Coal Ash Landfill Plans

Franklin County residents hold up signs to show their opposition to Ameren's landfill plans at a meeting of the county commission in 2011, just before the commission voted to change its zoning regulations to allow coal ash landfills.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
Franklin County residents show their opposition to the landfill regulations prior to the Commission vote.

Ameren's ability to move ahead with building a coal ash landfill in Franklin County is now in some doubt.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed a lower court's dismissal of a case filed by Franklin County residents in an effort to block the landfill's construction.

In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court said the residents have a valid case and that the Franklin County Circuit Court must hear it.

The case, originally filed in 2011, challenges a decision by the Franklin County Commission, which amended county zoning regulations to allow the construction of coal ash landfills in spite of sustained opposition by many county residents.

During its hearings on the zoning amendment, the commission didn’t let the public comment on Ameren’s landfill plan, so residents took the company ― and the county commission ― to court.

In the meantime, Ameren sought the Missouri Department of Natural Resources' permission to start construction. The state approved Ameren's construction permit last month.

But Maxine Lipeles, the attorney representing the Franklin County residents, said ongoing legal proceedings may change that. "This casts a little bit of a cloud on the validity of that permit, because the state can't issue a construction permit unless the landfill is in compliance with county zoning," Lipeles said.

The Missouri Supreme Court's ruling on Tuesday did not directly address the validity of Franklin County's zoning regulations. But if the lower court decides the county commission's zoning hearings were not "legally sufficient," that would invalidate county amendments allowing coal ash landfills.

In a written statement, Ameren said county regulations are still in effect and that the company remains committed to building a landfill in Labadie. A spokesperson for the company added that the state's permit was also still valid but would not say when the company plans to start construction.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience