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Mayor at center of frac sand fracas

Mayor Dennis Egan will take on his critics Monday evening when he explains to Red Wing residents and the City Council his new role as the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council's executive director.

A professional lobbyist who also is the titular head of the city, Egan accepted the post four weeks ago. People learned of it after Politics in Minnesota published a story Feb. 1 about the mounting frac sand debate at the state Capitol.

"I think there were emails and reaction to a highly sensitive issue without having all the facts in front of them," Egan said.

There is no conflict of interest, he said.

He noted that he signed the city's ordinance in October against mining. The city's position is clear.

The mining council members, who are Minnesota-based companies with more than 250 years of experience, are predominantly from Mankato, St. Peter, Shakopee and Jordan. They don't intend to mine the Mississippi River bluffs, he added.

"They are acutely aware of community involvement and ensuring that their operations can coexist in a city, a township and a county. They want to assure that they can continue to be viable and provide living-wage jobs," Egan said. He will lobby those positions in St. Paul.

More details on the positions and about the legalities of his decision will come out Monday night, he said.

"There's a ruling by the city attorney on that issue that will be made public at Monday night's meeting," Egan said.

Egan has been a full-time lobbyist and engaged in public affairs for 13 years. He said when he was elected in 2011, it was with the understanding that he would keep his career. Pay, reimbursement and other expenses for mayor are budgeted at $17,473.

In Minnesota, frac sand mining has become a controversial issue, and City Council Member Peggy Rehder finds Egan's involvement with the lobby "troubling."

Even though the frac sand industry says that they do not have any interest in mining within the city of Red Wing, Rehder said that mining in the surrounding area will affect Red Wing as well and that Red Wing should maintain "local control."

Demand is growing for silica sand, a hard and round product used in the fracking process in the North Dakota oil fields.

The silica mining debate popped up in Goodhue County in February 2011 when an oil company purchased 155 acres near Hay Creek and began drilling exploratory wells. A month later, as word spread, concerned citizens began organizations to prevent such mining. By September of that year, the Goodhue County Board had implemented a one-year moratorium. That was extended to September 2013.

The mayor's involvement with the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council is seen as a conflict of interest because he might not be thinking of the best interests for Red Wing citizens when discussion of frac sand mining comes up, but instead with the interests as an executive director.

"It's a very big issue for this city and for the mayor to be involved in it, other than as the mayor, just naturally sets off some alarm bells," Rehder said.

This potential conflict of interest will be evaluated by an attorney and presented at Monday's meeting. If a conflict of interest is found, Rehder said she hopes Egan will do what he needs to do and step down as mayor.

Egan said, "I hope things will be clearer. Then we will see how the council responds."

"At this point in time, I don't intend to step down," he added.

The city council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday Feb. 11 in Red Wing City Hall.