Red Wing City Council members asked Dennis Egan to step down as mayor or quit his new job as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council. When he insisted that he can occupy both positions at once, the council voted to investigate the depths of his relationship with the lobbying group and any other groups he might be serving as a consultant and lobbyist.
At the same public hearing Monday at Red Wing City Hall, citizen Dale Hanson vowed to lead a recall petition that he hopes will lead to a citywide vote that would oust the mayor. Hanson welcomed the city's involvement to make sure the petition is legally sound.
Egan declined to say whether he would fight the recall effort, but he noted that any petition must first pass legal muster with the Minnesota Attorney General's office.
City Council President Lisa Bayley termed Egan's dual employment a "pretty massive inherent conflict'' that has taken a negative toll on the city. Click here for a full story about the rebukes hurled at the mayor during the public hearing.
Photo of Mayor Dennis Egan: City of Red Wing
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health are not alone in calling for a full environmental impact study in Winona County for a cluster of proposed frac sand mines and processing facilities near St. Charles, Minn. Click here to read the full account of how strongly the two state agencies want an in-depth study to precede any decision on whether to permit facilities proposed by Minnesota Sands LLC.
The county also has heard from Unimin Corp., a North American non-metalic minerals company with major frac sand mines near Le Sueur. Like the MPCA and Health Department, Unimin says two frac sand mines proposed by Minnesota Sands LLC for rural Winona County should be viewed and studied as part of a larger web of facilities, even if they aren't built yet.
Unimin said the environmental data supplied by Minnesota Sands for the so-called Dabelstein and Yoder quarries is inadequate, partly because the proposed mines appear related to other projects, including a proposed $70 million processing plant and rail load-out near St. Charles.
The letter says that Unimin takes its responsibilities under Minnesota environmental review regulations very seriously. The company calls for a broad-based review in Winona County of all "related'' frac sand actions, including "land use impacts, wildlife impacts, water use, impacts on water resources, plans for erosion and sedimentation control, plans for handling waste, traffic impacts, air emissions, odors, noise, dust, visual impacts, infrastructure needs and cumulative impacts.''
The Winona County Board will have the final say.
Monday's City Council meeting in Red Wing promises to feature an interesting discussion of Mayor Dennis Egan's new second job as a champion for the Minnesota frac sand industry.
Egan said he signed an employment contract last week to be the executive director of the newly formed Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, a coalition of various companies with interests in frac sand, gravel and other aggregate products. Egan is a professional lobbyist and he also has registered himself to lobby on behalf of the sand council.
He said he won't step down as mayor while he collects a paycheck from the sand industry because he doesn't believe it's a conflict to be advocating for frac sand companies.
Meanwhile, Red Wing City Council President Lisa Bayley, a Harvard-educated lawyer, said she's been swamped with complaints, questions and concerns about the mayor's personal economic interest in advancing the frac sand industry at a time when so many people around Red Wing and throughout southeastern Minnesota oppose the expansion of sand mining.
Egan has joined the leadership ranks of a sand lobby group even as his city is deciding what stance to take on possible state government involvement in regulating sand mines.
"If the facts are as we think they are, it could prove to be a very serious matter,'' Bayley said about Egan's new job. She declined to elaborate. Click here for a full reading of the Star Tribune story.
In a move that is causing Trempealeau County to relax its frac sand ordinance to allow longer hours of operation by mining and processing companies, the City of Blair annexed the Preferred Sands LLC mine from surrounding Preston Township to allow the county's largest sand mine to run around the clock, 365 days a year.
The move will deny the township tax revenues that it was counting on when it supported the mine's creation with restricted hours. Township residents also lost direct representation in dealings with the mine when the city took control. Kevin Lien, Trempealeau's director of land management, said the county is relaxing its ordinance to prevent similar annexations.
Click here for the complete Star Tribune story.
The photo by Star Tribune photographer Brian Peterson shows the mine's ever-present nightime glow.
Dr. Crispin Pierce from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, and students in the Environmental Public Health Program have released findings from an initial round of air monitoring "snapshots'' they took outside frac sand plants in the Badger state.
The ongoing project is meant to understand long-term exposure concentrations and whether concentrations pose a public health threat. Such information is scarce in current debates over how far government should go in regulating frac sand mining.
The newly posted results show that concentrations of dangerous particles increased in the ambient air as one of the plants expanded operations.
The testing also found that one sand company gave unreliable estimates of how much particulate and silica would become airborne outside its facility. In another finding, levels of certain-sized particles were higher than the maximum concentrations predicted by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Rich Budinger, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, said news coverage of the UW-Eau Claire class may be causing undue concern because the industry is safe and "highly regulated.'' Budinger said sand companies use "rigorous monitoring, regular health evaluations and sophisticated emission-control technology to protect employees – and, by extension, the public.''
In Minnesota, the overall scarcity of air data around frac sand facilities prompted the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to set up a collection agreement at a new frac sand drying plant in North Branch.
Minnesota doesn't automatically require companies to monitor ambient air for sand dust. The arrangement with Tiller Corp. is part of a deal to settle a pollution law violation.