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Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan to step down

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RED WING — Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan has announced his intention to resign from office by April 1 after encountering controversy when he became executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council in January .

Lisa Bayley, Red Wing City Council president, said she talked briefly with Egan by phone Friday evening when he informed her that he would step down as mayor to continue to lead the lobbyist group. The matter is expected to be discussed at Monday's council meeting, where written notification of that decision may be filed. Egan, who has been a lobbyist for 15 years and runs his his own company, did not immediately return phone calls Saturday.

"We're going to miss his leadership on so many issues, but I respect his decision and wish him well in his new position," Bayley said.

Three city council members asked Egan to resign at a Feb. 11 meeting, but Egan refused to pick between the two positions that night. Jay Squires, the city attorney, issued a written opinion that said a legal conflict of interest did not currently exist .

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.

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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.

Silica legislation

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 bill from Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, would require the state of Minnesota to study the environmental impact of silica sand mining, as well as provide technical assistance to local governments to deal with the issue. Schmit's bill, which is scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday, would allow local governments to collect taxes to deal with the impact and the bill would establish the Southern Minnesota Silica Sand Board.

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.

Egan's involvement

The Red Wing City Council approved two measures earlier this month that would take a closer examination of Egan's involvement in that process. Monday's agenda includes a request for $7,000 to hire an independent investigator to examine the facts. The city is also in the process of requesting a legal opinion from the Minnesota Attorney General. Both issues are expected to be halted in the wake of Egan's announcement.

Egan spoke with the Red Wing Republican-Eagle: "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. The last few weeks have demonstrated that my new position can serve as a distraction to the city and my family."

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He was elected as mayor in February 2011 after a special election, winning 10 of 12 precincts. He swept all 12 precincts to win re-election last November, earning 73 percent of the votes. He's previously served as Chamber of Commerce president in both Red Wing and Rochester.

Egan has faced a strong backlash from citizens in recent weeks, after news came out of his position with the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council. Dale Hanson, of Red Wing, vowed to submit a recall petition if the situation wasn't resolved to his liking.

"I feel bad for him, personally," Red Wing council member Peggy Rehder said. "I don't think he intentionally got himself in this really awkward position. He certainly did not, in any way, anticipate the reaction that this got."

A special election is expected to be held this spring to fill the mayor position. It's projected to cost $25,000.

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