Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan resigns amid frac sand lobbying controversy

With frac sand mining proving to be a controversial issue in southeast Minnesota, Egan's decision to work as an industry lobbyist led to his resignation.
With frac sand mining proving to be a controversial issue in southeast Minnesota, Egan's decision to work as an industry lobbyist led to his resignation.
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Two weeks after saying he didn't plan to let a lobbying controversy end his tenure as Red Wing mayor, Dennis Egan has had a change of heart.

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Egan became mayor in early 2011 and won 73 percent of the vote last November, but has been under fire in recent weeks after he announced he'd taken a job lobbying for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council.

News of Egan's involvement broke about a month ago. As the Star Tribune reports, "Red Wing is in the heart of frac sand territory." But critics of frac sand mining worry it might have environmental and public health implications that aren't adequately understood and could lower property values. More from the Strib:

The rush to mine the ancient quartz [i.e., frac sand] started about four years ago with a national oil and gas boom using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing. The spherical, crush-resistant pebbles are vital ingredients in the drilling process.

The Rochester Post Bulletin provides background about why frac sand has proven particularly controversial in Red Wing:

Red Wing approved a new silica sand ordinance in October, signed by Egan, that essentially prohibits the industry from operating within city limits. However, the city still sent a letter to the Minnesota Legislature earlier this month supporting a state-wide generic environmental impact statement and moratorium. Egan recused himself from those discussions.

Counties and townships in southeastern Minnesota have struggled with the issue as new mining proposals have rolled in over the past two years, and more than a dozen opposition groups have sprung up based primarily on health and environmental concerns.

A Minnesota Senate committee took testimony on silica sand mining this past week and a bill dealing with silica sand mining's impact on communities is expected to be introduced on Monday...

The group Egan is leading, Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, is comprised of six companies with silica-related business interests in the state, including a company seeking to build a facility in St. Charles. They've hired lobbyists to take part in the state's ongoing discussion.

On February 11, the Red Wing City Council voted unanimously to hire an independent investigator to dig into the details of Egan's involvement with the Sand Council. At the time, Egan -- a career lobbyist and political consultant -- said he didn't plan to step down and vowed to recuse himself if and when frac sand-related issues came before the council. But comments council members made at that meeting suggested they were less than satisfied with that arrangement, and one resident promised to start a petition drive calling for the mayor's ouster if he didn't go willingly.

That ended up not being necessary, as late last week Egan changed his mind and decided to step down.

"The position of mayor is one of public service and, if a mayor's activities serve as a distraction or roadblock for the city, the public is not well served," Egan, speaking of his decision to resign, told the Post Bulletin. "The last few weeks have demonstrated that my new position can serve as a distraction to the city and my family."

Egan, who was paid $9,800 annually as mayor, will resign April 1. The City Council is scheduled to talk about the logistics of a special election during its meeting tonight.

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