JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A Missouri park official told Senate investigators a Lake of the Ozarks beach with high E. coli levels was not closed because he was on vacation and then stayed open because he missed later test results.
The Department of Natural Resources did not close the beach popular among tourists despite tests on May 18 and 27 that showed high bacterial levels. The Senate environment committee is investigating how the DNR handles E. coli tests after it waited a month to release results from a different testing program.
Jim Yancey, who oversees environmental operations in state parks, including beach testing, told Senate investigators the beach was not closed after the May 18 test because he was on vacation and hadn't delegated the responsibility to someone else.
"I sent the information to the park and essentially indicated that I'd been out," Yancey told investigators. A transcript of the interview was released Thursday. "I apologized that I wasn't there and that, at that time, that I saw that the results were such that the beach should have been closed, and it wasn't."
E. coli tests from the following week were much lower, but the average bacteria level was still too high and Yancey said he instructed the beach to be closed. But park officials asked if it could be opened because bacteria was trailing off.
Yancey said they decided it could because weather that week was good, but he missed an e-mail about follow-up test results that continued to show high bacteria levels and did not enter those results into the agency's records.
"Had I had those results, had I put those in the spreadsheet, it would have clearly indicated the beach should not have been opened," Yancey said. "So we opened that beach based on some bad information."
E. coli can cause potentially fatal, flu-like illnesses when a person ingests it or is infected through an open cut. The state health department has said it was unaware of anyone sickened after swimming in the Lake of the Ozarks.
Dan Paige, the deputy director for DNR's parks divisions, told Senate investigators he is implementing new procedures to ensure state beaches are closed when bacteria is high and to verify information is being shared.
Gov. Jay Nixon's administration has been under scrutiny since July media reports about the delayed reporting of E. coli results at the Lake of the Ozarks. The controversy grew when Nixon disclosed in September that the beach was not closed, even though the Department of Natural Resources had told the governor's office it was shut down.
Nixon ordered an internal review and suspended DNR Director Mark Templeton without pay for two weeks. Later, two unidentified department employees also were suspended.
Yancey told Senate investigators he was disciplined by the department for errors in data management and for providing erroneous information to managers. Yancey did not specify the punishment.
Templeton was scheduled to return to work Thursday, but his suspension was extended until Nixon is briefed on the conclusions of the internal investigation. That probe is expected to wrap up by early next week.
Nixon said Thursday that when deciding whether to reinstate Templeton, he wants to ensure there is confidence in the Department of Natural Resources.
"I expect that in a very short time, once I get all of that briefing completed, I'll make an announcement on that," Nixon said. "I think we're within a very, very short time window on being able to do that."
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)