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Continued: Frac sand mining awakens activism in southeastern Minnesota

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 19, 2013 - 4:00 PM

Nelson called the mayor’s dual role “corruption” of local politics. He’ll be able to feed the industry with the perspectives of a government insider, making it appear to the rest of the state that Red Wing has been “purchased” by the frac sand industry, she said.

NIMBY beginnings

Nelson admits that her fight started strictly as a not-in-my-back-yard concern.

In early 2011, two companies aligned with Gulfport Energy Corp., an Oklahoma oil and gas business, spent a startling $2.6 million for 155 acres of undeveloped, wooded bluff land adjacent to her neighborhood of country estates just south of Red Wing. In a scramble to learn why the land was so coveted, she uncovered a document that mentioned plans to mine 20 million tons of sand for fracking.

The shock quickly gave way to a local information campaign by Nelson and other neighbors. Hardly anyone in the surrounding valley had ever heard of frac sand, and no one was aware of the mining plan.

“Awareness-wise they’ve made a big difference around here,” said Pat O’Neill, owner of Hay Creek Campground and adjoining Dressen’s Saloon.

Nestled in a state recreation area loaded with rock outcroppings, horse-riding trails, trout fishing and snowmobile paths, Hay Creek attracts 500 to 600 visitors on weekends, O’Neill said. Frac sand mining would hurt his business, disrupt the lives of local residents and “deface a really beautiful area,” he said.

To spread the word, one of Nelson’s neighbors, a pilot, started flying sightseeing trips over frac sand mines in western Wisconsin, where close to 100 facilities have been permitted in the past four years. Anti-frac sand lawn signs went up along state Highway 58 in Hay Creek Township and fliers were handed out at local garage sales. Amy’s husband, Keith, spent a week in the couple’s garage painting a 20-by-30 foot banner that they plastered on the side of a nearby barn.

“Ban frac sand mining or enjoy silicosis, asthma, blowing dust, traffic, bad roads, a flat county, low property values, noise, lights, vibration, dry wells,” the banner said. “Call your commissioner before it is too late.”

More than 100 people crammed into a Red Wing library room to hear the group’s first official presentation by an activist from Wisconsin. Later, more than 200 people turned out for a similar gathering at the high school. Now, Nelson said, 30 volunteers form the core of Save the Bluffs, but another 300 people have signed up to receive the group’s e-mail notifications.

Citing business reasons, the owners of the Hay Creek property near Nelson’s home recently announced they are no longer interested in mining it. But Nelson isn’t quitting. She hopes for state involvement, but doesn’t want to relinquish the right for local units of government to establish their own controls over the industry.

“Yeah, I don’t want it in my own back yard, but I also don’t want it in my community and I don’t want it in anyone else’s community,” she said.

 

Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

  • related content

  • Continuing series: Frac Sand Fever

    Wednesday July 17, 2013

    Frac Sand Fever is a periodic Star Tribune series on the sand mining boom in Minnesota and Wisconsin as "hydro-fracking'' revolutionizes the nation's oil and gas industry.

  • Amy Nelson, a resident of Hay Creek Township south of Red Wing, Minn., stood near a proposed frac sand mine. She got involved after land near her house was purchased with an eye to building a mine. “The more you read, the angrier you get,” she said.

  • Signs of concern dot the landscape in Hay Creek Township south of Red Wing.

  • Growth industry

    100: Frac-sand mines and processing plants granted permits in Minnesota and Wisconsin in last four years.

    $500 million: Industry’s predicted annual revenues by 2015.

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