More than 50 protesters chanting: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, sand frac mining has got to go!" greeted attendees arriving for a frac sand conference in Brooklyn Center on Monday evening.
A handful of Brooklyn Center police officers kept the protesters on the sidewalk and out of the way of traffic in front of the Earle Brown Heritage Conference Center, where the three-day Conference of Silica Sand Resources is underway. The event, run alongside a groundwater conference, has attracted 600 people, organizers say.
Harvey Benson, 81, came up from near the Iowa border where he lives in Harmony, Minn., joining other protesters from southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin and Iowa.
"My mother always told me to leave things as good or better than I found them, and I'm afraid this frac sand mining is going in the wrong direction," said Benson, who carried a sign warning: "Beware mining $$$ frenzy."
Diane Leutgeb Munson came on a bus with 35 protesters from Winona because "we want the people attending the conference to know how those of us 120 miles away who will be affected feel." She hopes to learn "who's showing up and who's investing" in mining projects around Winona and Red Wing.
One of the conference organizers, engineering manager Louis Rudnicki from Maple Grove-based Tiller Corp., said the event is "educational, not pro-mining." But he said some of the speakers will include mining industry officials.
Technical sessions on Tuesday will discuss regulatory, reclamation, transportation and water quality issues. On Wednesday, attendees will go on a field trip to sand-mining operations in western Wisconsin.
"It's pretty vanilla," said Rudnicki, who welcomed protesters to attend the sessions if they pay the $140 registration fee. "That's the beauty of this country -- that people can voice their legitimate concerns. It all boils down to the human element."
He said mining officials and their employees "want to realize what this land has to offer" -- namely silica sand that can help natural gas flow from holes in the shale caused by hydro-fracturing.
"The protesters want an Earth they can pass down," he said. "We all have to take a step back and realize there is a right way to do this mining. There is a demand for the end products and we have to find a way to mine this sand responsibly."
Outside the center, Benson agreed that everyone needs to take a step back. "There is another side, I hate to admit it," he said. "I just think this is a serious situation that needs more study."
Kate Foerster came up from Winona, where she'd like to buy land to farm. "But this sand mining is driving up land prices, adding truck traffic and we have this great community with bluegrass and film festivals and that's going to go away if this industry takes over," said Foerster, who was carrying a sign that read: "There is no right way to do something so wrong."
Kathleen Bibus joined the picketers from her home near Red Wing, worried about "unrelenting sand truck traffic" and that her scenic blufftops are in jeopardy of being flattened for the coveted silica sand.
Rudnicki said a few of the protesters ponied up the $140 fee and will attend Tuesday's technical sessions.
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767