On Monday, Feb. 13, nearly 30 protesters rallied to block the entrance of Modern Transport Rail on Second Street shortly after 1 p.m.
There were no signs and no chants, only a line of people bundled in winter gear standing shoulder to shoulder spanning the width of the truck entrance. The demographically mismatched group was juxtaposed against the washed-out backdrop of a hazy snowfall.
The protests focus was raising awareness about the local impact of frac sand mining, and most concerns voiced by protesters were of possible health risks, deteriorating roadways, environmental harm and the effect on local bluff aesthetics.
Protester Jake Olzen said his biggest concern is for the safety of the bridge, deemed structurally deficient by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Olzen. “That’s one reason why a lot of us are out here today.”
As the first incoming semi truck approached the entrance protesters linked arms, bringing the truck to a halt. The standoff was closely followed by the arrival of property owner Rich Mikrut and the police.
Last Thursday a group of nine protesters blocked the same entrance, briefly disrupting the semi traffic in and out of Modern Transport Rail.
"I'm just sick of it. They're trying to stop a legitimate business,” said Mikrut about the protesters. “There's no reason for it."
Protesting persisted while police managed the scene and city news crews documented the demonstration.
The rumble of diesel engines grew louder as the semi back-up grew longer and protesters delivered hot pink note cards to the truck drivers expressing their purpose for protesting.
“We stand here today because this is our community. We grow our food on this land and drink from these aquifers. We rely on this bridge and these roads. Frac sand mining and processing are not good for our community,” the statement explained. “We also know that our valuable sand is being used in the hydraulic fracturing process which is responsible for poisoning water and destroying land in countless other communities. We have used our words time and again to express our many concerns. Now, in the spirit of nonviolence, we use our bodies to say stop. Please, stop.”
“Drivers should know we are not against them,” said protester Dan Wilson. “But know this is a bad industry and it’s hurting us.”
Fountain City resident Nate Rislove said his biggest fear of losing the bluffs he grew up in is already becoming a reality.
“People have to become aware and people have to respect the land,” said Rislove. “Every where people have to realize there is only so much we can take before there is nothing left to take.”
The protesters were warned to move to the curb where they mingled while a parade of semi trucks entered the processing facility.
"Our intention today was not to get arrested but hinder this industry as long as possible," said Wilson.
The industry Wilson speaks of is focused on mining ‘mature’ sand like the Jordan Sandstone found in the Winona area. The perfectly rounded quartz grains, uniform in size, are essential in the natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing.
Natural gas is extracted by pumping a pressurized mix of water, chemicals and sand into a horizontal well positioned in a layer of shale, fracturing the rock and releasing the oil and gas.
The Jordan’s unique quartz grains create a strong and porous framework, allowing the natural gas and oil to travel up the well to the surface.
After quarrying, the sand is delivered by truck to Modern Transport Rail where it is cleaned and prepared for export.
Winona County has put a three-month moratorium on sand mining, but the city has not.
A few hours after the protest, dozens of community members filled the We-no-nah meeting room, spilling into the hallway, to attend the Winona City Planning Commission public hearing.
City leaders discussed adding more restrictions to future mining and processing projects, but wouldn’t stop the process all together.
After the hearing the city voted to table the issue until their next meeting on Monday Feb. 27.
See footage of the protest and on camera interviews below.