St. Louis Public Radio News
4:49 pm
Wed September 30, 2009

DNR director suspended over Lake of the Ozarks controversy

Jefferson City, MO – Gov. Jay Nixon has suspended the head of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over the failure to close contaminated swimming beaches at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Mark Templeton is on leave without pay for two weeks pending an internal investigation into his decision not to close one of the lake's public swimming beaches over the Memorial Day weekend despite water quality reports showing unsafe levels of E. coli. Levels were found to be five times over the safe limit in the week leading up to Memorial Day.

"Yesterday's discovery about the failure to close beaches combined with well-documented other issues with management about water quality leads me to believe that a deep look into DNR is absolutely necessary," he said.

Nixon said Wednesday that DNR officials had falsely told him the beaches were closed, and he found out otherwise from a newspaper article.

Templeton said information he received from his staff led him to believe that the beach was safe, but that "accountability is appropriate."

The test results that should have closed the beaches are the same the department had admitted to withholding from the public because of concerns over the impact on tourism. Nixon has denied knowing anything about the poor water quality results, or ordering the reports withheld from the public. But a former DNR official has said she told a member of Nixon's communications team about the report results within days of receiving them.

Nixon's chief of staff John Watson said that so far no one has complained about becoming sick after spending time at the lake over Memorial Day Weekend.