Page 3 of 6
"That's why my dog was getting septic," Seyer says, referring to the illness more commonly referred to as septic shock. "He was swimming in sludge and sewage. You'd never make that connection in a stream as clear as this. When you walk into that park, you expect snakes, deer, coyotes, wild animals. You don't expect to come out of there septic."
In Missouri, poop is political.
Sen. Brad Lager, a Republican from Maryville, led a state Senate investigation into the DNR's Lake of the Ozarks debacle through the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee.
The resulting report was published in February, but the committee's three Democrats, Sens. Joan Bray, Jolie Justus and Tim Green, refused to sign it. In their separate report, they criticized their Republican counterparts, writing that the investigation "quickly degenerated into an overtly political endeavor ... [that] morphed into a thinly veiled rationale for the on-going political witch hunt, rife with intimidation, threats of subpoenas, blanket demands for all communications of all DNR employees, and strategic press leaks of selective facts intended to inflict political harm on the administration."
The bacteria test results behind the furor were never intended to assess public safety, the minority report notes. Unlike the DNR's weekly tests for bacteria levels at Lake of the Ozarks beaches, these tests were performed by volunteers of the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance as part of a five-year, $15,000 study funded by the Ameren Corporation, a utility company with an electricity generator at the lake. That study was in its third year in May 2009, and the data collected were to be used to determine the condition of the lake ecosystem.
The minority report points out that Lager took notice of the issue only after the DNR was under the helm of Gov. Jay Nixon's appointees. During the previous administration of Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, the DNR failed on 12 occasions between April 19, 2005, and May 26, 2009, to close public beaches after recording elevated E. coli counts at the lake. Lager had never criticized the lag time in reporting findings from the five-year Ameren study, either, though there were at least three occasions in 2007 and 2008 when those results were similarly delayed.
Lager's report makes no mention of Joe Bindbeutel, the DNR's deputy director at the time of the elevated readings at the lake, though Bindbeutel testified before the Senate committee. In his testimony, Bindbeutel explained that he had waited to release the bacterial counts to the public until after the DNR determined the source of the pollution (heavy rain, faulty septic systems, migrating geese, or a combination of factors). Rather than "dumping" the potentially confusing data on the public, he said, he wanted to be able to explain the information in context.
"Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Mr. Bindbeutel's logic ... it is evident that his decision was not part of a conspiracy to protect financial interests at the Lake of the Ozarks," the minority report reads. "To allege otherwise is irresponsible."
The Democratic committee members say Lager sent copies of his Lake of the Ozarks investigation report to the media before the senators themselves were able to review its contents. "The media reported his version of the so-called investigation, as no opportunity was given to Democratic members of the committee to make corrections or alterations prior to dissemination to the media," the minority report reads. "Further, the Department of Natural Resources, the subject of much derision in the report, did not even possess a copy of the report when media outlets began asking for reactions."