CENTERVILLE, Mo. (AP) -- The Taum Sauk Fund board, created to allocate $7 million for projects in Reynolds and Iron counties after the collapse of Ameren's Taum Sauk dam, has voted to dissolve and split the money between the eastern Missouri counties.
The fund was established after more than a billion gallons of water was released Dec. 14, 2005, when a 700-foot section of the earthen dike around the dam's reservoir broke. As a result, tourism suffered in Reynolds County, home to Johnson Shut-Ins State Park, and neighboring Iron County, which has Taum Sauk Mountain and Fort Davidson State Park.
Ameren paid nearly $200 million in settlements with federal regulators and the state after the dam failed.
In late 2007, then-Attorney General Jay Nixon gave $7 million of that money to the two counties for revitalization projects. The nine-member Taum Sauk Fund board was created in 2008 to disperse the money.
Less than $1 million has been awarded, and the fund has grown to $7.1 million, earning interest.
Grants so far have included more than $4,500 for a Fourth of July car show in Pilot Knob, and $15,800 for the Bunker Volunteer Fire Department to pay for music at an Oktoberfest. A $59,000 grant will fund a fenced-in playground and trails behind a school in Lesterville, leading many to question how that will benefit economic development or tourism.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that in a closed session Feb. 17, the board voted to dissolve. Each county now will write a new set of bylaws governing how the money can be used. But it's unclear what changes they will make.
Robin Coventry has been executive director of the Taum Sauk Fund for less than a year. She said there was no doubt the money was meant to help people now and should not be preserved just to accrue interest.
"That's not what the money was given for," she said. "It was given to help the region."
Craig Claney, who owns Big Creek RV Park north of Annapolis in Iron County, questioned whether splitting the money and the board would benefit the region as a whole.
"This money was set to get tourism going," he said. "How is splitting it going to do that?"
Tom Crowell, a board member, said he and the three other Iron County members wanted to spend the money to jolt the lagging economy. The five Reynolds County members wanted to preserve the fund, and succeeded.
"They are happy with making interest," said Crowell, who owns a bed and breakfast in Arcadia. "What good does that money do if it sits in a bank?"
Jim Hill, the board president from Reynolds County, says he wants the money around for future generations.
"I'd like to see it do something over a long period of time," he said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)