RED WING, Minn. (AP) — The mayor of Red Wing has been hired to promote the region’s growing frack sand industry, raising questions from some citizens about whether he can balance his community’s interests with his new employer’s.
Mayor Dennis Egan said Tuesday he sees no conflict of interest with his new job as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, a group of companies with interests in mining silica sand and providing services to the industry. He noted that he has worked for the past 10 years as a lobbyist at the state Capitol anyway.
“The folks had gotten my name because that’s what I do,” Egan said. “It wasn’t tied to anything other than ‘Dennis, you’ve done this for 10 years, and you have a good reputation.’ My approach is you need to work in collaboration to move projects forward.”
But City Council President Lisa Bayley said she has received many “complaints, questions and concerns” from residents about the mayor’s new job.
Southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin have experienced a boom in silica sand mining. The hard, round grains are used in hydraulic fracturing — known informally as “fracking” — to unlock oil and natural gas deposits. As small communities try to balance environmental, safety and traffic concerns against the economic opportunities, several local officials have taken jobs in the lucrative business, raising concerns about conflicts of interest and self-dealing.
“How can you represent citizens and the industry at the same time?” asked John Tittle, a Red Wing resident and member of the citizen’s opposition group Save The Bluffs. “It seems like it would be a conflict. It seems kind of obvious.”
Egan said he signed an ordinance that essentially bans frack sand mining in Red Wing months before the sand companies approached him in late December. Should any new proposals be made, he said, he would recuse himself from those discussions.
No formal frack sand proposals are currently before the City Council, but a Minnesota Senate committee has scheduled a Feb. 19 hearing for bills on sand mining. In the past four years, more than 100 mines and processing facilities have received permits, mostly in Wisconsin but some in Minnesota. Regulation of the industry so far has been largely left up to county, city and township governments in the two states, and critics say those smaller units of government are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges.
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