A state senator leading the review of the Department of Natural Resources decision to withhold information about contamination at the Lake of the Ozarks insists he’s not out to investigate DNR and is ready to wrap up work if DNR will cooperate.
Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Consumer Protection, Energy and Environment Committee , is quick to precisely frame what he believes his committee’s role is.
“This is not a criminal proceeding, this is a legislative inquiry to make sure that we have responsible public policy in place to insure the health and public safety of our citizens is at the highest level possible,” Lager tells the Missourinet.
Lager says DNR’s General Counsel has hampered the work of the committee by injecting himself into the process. According to Lager, committee staff hasn’t been able to conduct routine interviews or gather certain information, because of the DNR General Counsel. He says that has delayed the review. Lager says DNR Director Mark Templeton has stepped in to help and the process has become smoother.
DNR officials have been accused of holding on to information about elevated levels of E. coli found in coves at the Lake of the Ozarks in May. Several samples taken from the Lake on May 26th disclosed elevated levels of the bacteria. They were ready for release three days later, but weren’t made public for four weeks. DNR has been accused of withholding the information, because the state feared it would hurt tourism at one of Missouri’s prime attractions.
Lager sees the committee reviewing why DNR withheld the information for four weeks and considering changes in state law to prevent a recurrence
Lager says the committee needs to answer some basic questions, “Does DNR need to send those test results to the Department of Health within two days of getting them, or something like that? Are there additional steps or is there a change that needs to happen in the public policy process to insure this unfortunate situation that happened in May and June doesn’t happen again?”
During a meeting via conference call on Friday, several Republican committee members expressed the worry that the committee’s work will appear to be partisan; a Republican legislature going after a Democratic administration. Lager says he believes that if the committee is open about its working, it can remove any such impressions.
DNR, responding to a request by committee staff, has forwarded 200,000 e-mails to the committee. Staff is combing through the electronic correspondence as well as sifting through other material. Lager says he wants the staff to do the initial legwork before the committee meets at the Capitol in Jefferson City to conduct a formal hearing.
Lager refuses to place a deadline on the committee’s work. He says the length of the inquiry depends greatly on DNR’s cooperation.