WINONA, Minn. - In the heart of downtown Winona, there is an explosive issue brewing underground, and above it.
Monday afternoon, dozens of protesters blocked trucks carrying specialized sand into a processing plant. The sand is used in the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking.'
"Our intention today was not to get arrested but hinder this industry as long as possible," said activist Dan Wilson.
The industry Wilson speaks of has to do with out-of-state companies that use 'fracking' to pump out natural gas and oil from the Earth.
They do this by drilling down and across layers of rock, then pump a pressurized mix of sand, water, and chemicals deep underground, fracturing the rock.
The specialized sand, called Silica, then helps keep the fractures open, allowing gas and oil to travel to the surface.
"It's a very, very specific kind of sand that is perfectly round," said Wilson.
That specialized sand is mined and processed in Winona, along with other nearby locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
That's why about two dozen protesters blocked the entrance to a processing plant in the downtown Winona until police were called to open it back up. No one was arrested.
"What I'm afraid of is our area just being turned into a mine pit and used only as sand mining," he said.
The group is also concerned with the possible health risks and what the constant amount of heavy trucks will do to already deteriorating roadways.
In fact, the Winona County Engineer issued a report recently that says if the amount of traffic continues, roads that were supposed to last 20 years would only last two.
The property owner where one of the processing plants is located disputes those concerns.
"I'm just sick of it. They're trying to stop a legitimate business. There's no reason for it," said owner Rich Mikrut about the protesters.
Winona County has already put a three-month moratorium on Silica sand mining, but the city has not. That's why dozens of protesters packed a planning commission meeting late Monday afternoon hoping to change some minds
City leaders considered adding more restrictions to future mining and processing plants, but would not stop the process all together.
That wasn't good enough for dozens of residents.
"The respiratory issues that have happened in my household since this thing has moved into my neighborhood is out of control. My daughter has asthma now, my son is constantly coughing," said Alison DeNio.
In the end, the city voted to put the issue on hold with the expectation of doing more study on the issue, which isn't going away and neither are these residents.
"We are sick and tired of leaders wanting us to shut up because we're not going to shut up," said protester Jim Gurley.
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