Despite a jury finding them guilty of misdemeanor trespassing, some of the 20 frac-sand protesters in Winona said Friday they’ll ignore a judge’s order to pay $200 apiece to the operators they blocked last spring.
Their initial April 29 protest rallied more than 100 people from nine states to take part in a demonstration they hope will slow or stop the practice of tearing into the Mississippi River’s sandstone bluffs to mine silica sand. The round grains are perfect for use in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process — keeping blasted holes in shale open to ease oil extraction in North Dakota, Texas and other areas — but they’ve been splitting communities in southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin, where the sand is most prevalent.
Sand-mining proponents say the activity can promote job growth and help lessen U.S. energy dependence on foreign oil.
A group called Winona Area Citizens Concerned About Silica Mining and others have raised health and environmental concerns at the city, county and state levels. Frustrated that they weren’t being heard, they organized the large demonstration — halting truck traffic for an hour at a processing site and a Winona commercial harbor.
Originally, 35 people were arrested. The number of defendants dwindled when some people failed to appear and other cases were dismissed.
After a four-day trial this week, Winona County District Judge Jeffrey Thompson sentenced 20 protesters Thursday to one year of unsupervised probation and banned them from returning to two sites. The judge ordered each protester to pay $285 — $85 for court costs and $200 to be split between Brandt Valley Excavating and CD Corp., which manages the harbor.
“I have no intention of paying the fine whatsoever,” said Dan Wilson, 25, who has returned to his job as a migrant worker advocate in Arizona. “I will send a check for $85 of court costs and a letter to the judge, explaining that I don’t feel it’s OK to support companies that very actively destroy the ecosystem and environment of southeastern Minnesota.”
Diane Leutgeb Munson, a 32-year-old baker at Winona’s Blue Heron Coffeehouse, doesn’t plan to pay the $200 either “and I would say many members of our group share that sentiment.”
She said she thought her defense attorney had proved the three components that allow for legal trespassing, but the judge refused to let the six-person jury consider that so-called necessity defense. Most of the defendants admitted protesting and refusing to leave when told to do so.
Wilson, who lived in Winona for seven years and plans to return, says he broke the law because there was a greater danger by allowing frac-sand excavation.
“The end verdict wasn’t the goal for us in the first place,” Munson said. “We feel like we achieved a lot of the things we were aiming to do, which was raise awareness and inspire more people to be involved in the issue.”
She said they have 90 days to pay the fine. Then she believes the matter will be sent to court collections without triggering a warrant as a probation violation.
“Eventually they will find a way to get that money somehow,” she said. “This was just another step in our journey together as a community.”