Mo. senator says 'cover-up' with E. coli tests -

Mo. senator says 'cover-up' with E. coli tests

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Missouri senator reviewing the delayed release of E. coli results from the Lake of the Ozarks said Wednesday there has been an "organized cover-up" and an outside investigation might be necessary.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, said his committee's examination of E. coli test results has been hindered by the Department of Natural Resources -- particularly the agency's director Mark Templeton.

Lager said there might be a need for further investigation because the issue involves public health, but he did not call for one Wednesday. Lager said a possible option is for the attorney general's office to appoint special investigators.

"The facts prove it out, this isn't a debate. The E. coli levels were at levels beyond the threshold of safe. DNR or someone above DNR made a conscious decision not to release that and that is unacceptable," Lager said. "And then, when an inquiry was begun, there was an organized cover-up."

The Department of Natural Resources took water samples on May 26 for a five-year environmental study funded by Ameren Corp., but results were not released until late June. Those samples showed high E. coli levels in numerous locations. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration has been dogged by the controversy since mid-July media reports about the delay.

When Nixon was attorney general, he appointed special investigators in 2007 to determine whether then-Gov. Matt Blunt's office complied with open record and document retention laws.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster said Wednesday that the office has received no requests for an additional investigation. Earlier this summer, the office concluded that DNR did not violate Missouri's open-records law by delaying the release of the test results.

Last month, Nixon suspended Templeton for two weeks while disclosing that DNR did not close a beach at the Lake of the Ozarks despite high bacteria found in a different testing program. Nixon ordered an internal review.

That internal investigation is to be completed by early next week and Nixon will be briefed afterward, DNR spokesman Travis Ford said Wednesday. A decision on whether to reinstate Templeton will follow.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in St. Louis, Nixon said the environmental agency has short-term management issues that must be handled. He said Missouri needs to focus on fixing long-standing water quality problems.

"It's got our attention not only at Lake of the Ozarks but throughout the state," he said. "I think in stepping back for a moment and staying away from the frenetic, kind of hyper interaction that we're seeing in some fronts and instead talking about what's the bigger challenge and where are we going to go to deal with that, that is what we're trying to grapple with."

Nixon said his administration has cooperated with the Senate investigation, turning over 200,000 documents.

Lager said investigators have been mislead, disrupted by a dispute over whether DNR lawyers should be present during employee interviews, blocked from reviewing 6,000 e-mails and given other e-mails in a way that cannot be searched electronically. But he said the agency has been more cooperative since Templeton's suspension.

Ford said DNR withheld 6,000 e-mails because they dealt with personnel, legal and other issues that are exempt from disclosure. He said Senate investigators reviewed 130 of those 6,000 e-mails after asking to see them and have not requested to examine more.

Ford said the environmental agency has not changed its posture since Templeton's suspension and the department does not believe an outside investigation is needed.

"The department's intention has been to be helpful" to Senate investigators, Ford said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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