Thousands of Lakefront Property Owners Still at Risk

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CAMDEN COUNTY - Imagine spending your life's savings on lakefront property only to find out it's worth nothing; the $200,000 house you built with your own two hands didn't even belong to you. That's what some Lake of the Ozarks residents who thought they owned lakefront property are fighting.

Ameren Missouri, which owns 32,000 acres at the Lake of the Ozarks, sent a letter to only a handful of lakefront property owners in January 2010 claiming it owned their property in fee and reserved all rights to take any action deemed appropriate.

"It's a very bad situation for people who've worked their whole lives, saved money, done the right thing, follow all the rules to get a letter in the mail that says too bad, we own everything you've got," lakefront property owner Dale Thompson said.

Thompson and other property owners question why they are paying taxes on Ameren's property. According to Ameren, this is not its issue.

"If they feel like they shouldn't be paying taxes on a piece of property that is in Ameren's control or ownership they should certainly explore that and contact their tax professional about that," Ameren representative Jeff Green said. "They would be more upset if we withheld their dock permit...we really didn't have a good solution for it at this time," Green added.

Every 40 years Ameren must submit a Shoreline Management Plan to FERC, or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC regulates, monitors and investigates electricity, natural gas, hydropower and other energy-related issues across the country.

But, FERC did not approve Ameren's most recent plan, arguing there were several areas that did not meet its standards such as fish and plant habitation and equal access to the shoreline. Following the rejection of Ameren's plan, FERC released a statement July 2011 ordering all non-conforming structures encroaching on Ameren's project boundary be removed. The number of "encroaching" structures affected 1,200 homes and 3,000 structures, which includes but is not limited to gazebos and docks.

Then, on November of this year, FERC released another statement arguing it never ordered 4,200 homes and structures be removed, and claims it was simply a misunderstanding.

"I don't think we ordered the removal. But, we did approve a plan that at that time under which Ameren sent letters to people and referred to FERC and that caused some of the confusion," FERC representative Cheryl LaFleur said.

After FERC released its most recent statement, some residents took comfort knowing their property was "safe." But, owner of Portside Properties Stacy Shore argued FERC's most recent statement is essentially a mirror-image of its previous order. Shore says the order does not change anything and she and the thousands of others affected will continue fighting.

"I hope we send the message loud and clear. We're not asleep at the wheel and we will continue fighting for what's ours here," Shore said.

FERC is giving Ameren until June 2012 to redraw its project boundary lines and submit a revised Shoreline Management Plan. Ameren officials told FERC they intend to reduce the project boundaries from 32,000 acres to 1,000 acres so far less residents will be affected.