Town Officials Accused Of Frac Sand Conflict Of Interest


As frac sand mining comes to rural counties and small towns in western Wisconsin some elected officials are being walking a fine line to avoid conflicts of interest and ethics charges.

Selling or leasing land to frac sand mining companies is lucrative. In some cases farmland with rich deposits of silica have been known to sell for $1 million per acre. But when elected officials sell land to mining companies, a fine legal line must be walked. Here’s the law as read by Attorney Rick Stadlemen, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Towns Association:

“No public official may take any official action substantially affecting a matter in which the official, a member of his or her immediate family or an organization in which they are associated has a substantial financial interest.”

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But the conflict of interest law is being tested in communities being courted by frac sand mining companies. One example is the small town of Montana in Buffalo County. There, Board Chairman Dennis Bork is part of a seven-landowner group pushing to build a frac sand mine and wash plant worth $15 million. That has led to accusations of conflict of interest from townspeople which led resident Joe Mlinar to file an ethics complaint against Bork. Mlinar says he never abstained from discussions about sand mining until he was challenged on it, “He did not take the opportunity early on in the process to either recuse himself from every meeting or every discussion about sand in the township.”

Bork did not agree to an interview.

Similar concerns have been raised in Sumner, Preston, Arcadia and with officials Trempealeau County.