As the U.S. Justice Department looks into the failed coal gasification plant in Kemper County, a manager heavily involved with the construction claims the cost overruns and delays were well-known but covered up by the plant’s owner, Mississippi Power Co.

If the allegations are true, this nightmare might end up costing the utility company more than the $6.4 billion it already has had to swallow.

Kelli Williams, who served as a construction manager for Mississippi Power’s parent, Southern Co., told the Clarion Ledger that she saw problems with the projected costs when she reported to the Kemper site in 2010.

“Just about every bid project we put out would be more than the estimate,” Williams said.

She said she passed on her concerns to her bosses, but the message came back to hush. She suspects that’s because if word got out that both the initial $2.4 billion cost projection and the 2014 completion date were way off, investors would react negatively and Southern’s stock price would fall.

Williams account sounds credible. If the Justice Department agrees, Mississippi Power could be forced to pay back not only the nearly $400 million the federal government kicked into the project but significant penalties on top of that.

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