Renaissance Festival on edge as mine pit inches closer

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Two years ago, the threat of a mine displacing the Renaissance Festival was described as the "distant future."

Apparently that distant future is now here in the present.

The Star Tribune reports a booming silica sand industry – a crucial element of fracking – has moved the open pit closer and closer to the festival, to the point where attendees actually have to cross it while traveling from the parking lot to the festival grounds.

Festival operator Mid-America Festivals Corp. has leased the land for years now, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal notes. But says fellow companies Landowner Malkerson Sales Inc. and Bryan Rock Products Inc. also use the site for mining.

The conflict of land interests has been on the horizon for years.

It was 2012 when the phrase "distant future" was used by Jim Peterson, who runs Mid-America Festivals Corp., while speaking with the Star Tribune. It's a 954-acre piece of land, with the festival taking up about 150 acres, the Star Tribune reported at the time.

And those 150 acres are now being squeezed, as the administrator for the "Save MN Renaissance Festival" Facebook page wrote on Aug. 4 this year.

"First time on Ren Fest grounds for 2014 Saturday, a very sad day, the main entrance simply put SUCKS BAD and is a long way from the parking lot which now is on the other side of a massive pit and down a long winding rocky rutted road."

That group was created in 2012, and has tracked the mine's growth. They created a change.org petition to preserve the Renaissance Festival site, and even link to things like a Scott County review for a mine project in Louisville Township, published in June of this year. Which, on page 73, addresses the Renaissance Festival conflict.

The "active local attraction," as the festival is called, is on the southern portion of the proposed project.

"With or without the project, the Renaissance Festival will eventually be relocated from the Site due to either continued limestone mining ... or the limestone and sandstone mining associated with the Project. ... To accommodate the proposed mining the Renaissance Festival will be dislocated, in either case, the buildings will be properly disposed of, wells sealed and all solid waste and debris associated with this facility will be properly removed and managed."

The Renaissance Festival sees 300,000 visitors each year, the website says, and it's grown to be the largest such festival in the United States.

With the rise in silica sand mining, the Minnesota Legislature passed new rules and regulations to monitor the industry. Those can be found on the the state silica sand mining website.

The Mid-America Festivals Corp. lease on the current Renaissance Festival land is done in 2016, the Star Tribune says, and Peterson told the paper he'll be scouting for other sites. But there's also a chance it stays right where it is.

The Save MN Renaissance Festival page doesn't appear hopeful.

"Saturday was sadly a very stark day, I have to admit the feeling of inevitability was omnipresent and very discouraging," the Aug. 4 post continued.

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