Frac sand mining: Cyclists concerned

Twin Cities bicyclists will be among those gathering at an event tonight to raise concerns about frac sand mining.

Several silica sand mines close to the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin are near areas where cyclists like to ride and stay in bed-and-breakfasts. Some of the proposed mines in southeastern Minnesota are also located in scenic areas where cycling is popular.

Tracy Sides, an avid cyclist for 25 years, organized the event, which will take place at the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis. The event includes a screening of a documentary showing the impacts of sand mining in Wisconsin, as well as a forum.

Documentary trailer:

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"Bicyclists care about frac sand mining for the same reasons that I've heard a lot of southeast Minnesota residents testify at the State Capitol, and that's health, safety and scenery," Sides said. "Degraded scenery undermines the cycling and tourism. I've visited mining locations in Wisconsin, and industrial frac sand mines look like open sores on the land."

Sides said increased truck traffic from sand mining threatens a resource on both sides of the river.

"This is beautiful, rolling hills, sometimes challenging hills to climb, but gorgeous scenery, and this is a really unique area because of the water features, the land and the Mississippi River Valley," she said. "The roads tend to be nice and quiet and in good condition, and there are extensive off-road trails."

Sides said big trucks and cyclists don't mix well, especially on narrow, two-lane roads.

Sides, who has worked as a public health epidemiologist, said the forum will include a discussion on potential health effects of inhaling silica dust. Mining activity in both Wisconsin and Minnesota has slowed in recent months, but market analysts expect demand will grow again in the next few years as more of the hydraulic fracturing wells that use the sand come online.