A state senator heading a review of why the Department of Natural Resources withheld a report on contamination at the Lake of the Ozarks says the most recent revelations confirm the need for a Senate review.
A review of DNR action by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and the Environment began in late July. Chairman Brad Lager (R-Savannah) refuses to call it an investigation, insisting the committee simply wants to know what broke down, where it broke down and should public policy change to keep it from breaking down in the future.
DNR withheld information about elevated E. coli levels at the Lake of the Ozarks for four weeks. It came to light late last week that a former top DNR official informed a top aide of Governor Nixon about the problem on May 29th. The interview former DNR Communications Director Susanne Medley gave to Senate committee staff members contradicts the insistence of the governor’s office that it didn’t know until June 23rd that DNR withheld the report. Medley told Senate staffers that she spoke with Jeff Mazur, a member of the governor’s communications office on the 29th, the day after she found out about the report.
Revelations that Governor Nixon’s office knew early on confirm Lager’s belief that the probe is needed.
“And the reason that that is so important is because this is not about pointing a finger at somebody and saying, ‘It’s this person’s fault.’ This is about understanding where the public trust was violated and then making sure that never happens again,” says Lager.
Lager doesn’t want to rush the review, which he says has been slowed because DNR hasn’t cooperated.
“What is very clear to me is DNR has made a conscious decision to not be candid, to not be open and to not be honest,” Lager says.
Lager adds that after DNR drug its feet, it then dumped nearly half a million e-mails on the committee, yet still might be keeping e-mail correspondence vital to the review from committee staff members. Staff members with the committee have been interviewing DNR personnel and reading e-mails.
Gov. Nixon held a news conference last week to announce an initiative to improve water quality at the Lake of the Ozarks. The four-part plan begins with the inspection of about 400 area facilities that hold wastewater permits close to the Lake of the Ozarks of major tributaries. Lager says he’s not sure the plan adequately addresses public safety concerns at the lake. He advocates a state government policy that works with communities at the Lake of the Ozark to police contamination.