Grand Forks to reject controversial Chinese plant as national security threat

In a surprising about-face after more than a year of controversy, Grand Forks officials now say they plan to reject the Fufeng Chinese corn milling plant proposed in a location aobut 15 miles from the strategic Grand Forks Air Force Base. Despite bitter opposition by many residents and both North Dakota senators, the plant appeared to be moving forward again after the release of a federal review that took no position on the $700 million project.

But a blunt assessment by Air Force officials of the plant’s “significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks” convinced the city to abruptly reverse course, according to Forum News.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he believes the controversial Fufeng project “should be stopped” after a representative from the U.S. Air Force wrote that the proposed wet corn mill in Grand Forks is a “significant threat to national security.”

“The federal government has requested the city’s help in stopping the project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project,” Bochenski said in a statement sent to the media Tuesday afternoon. “The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits. As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”

Grand Forks has become an unlikely front in the escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. The Chinese-based company’s plans came under increasing scrutiny following objections raised last year by North Dakota GOP Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, who welcomed city officials’ decision.

In a video posted to his website, Cramer said “I personally believe we should be strategically severing our ties with China.”

He said it has been his position for some time.

“Inserting them further into our critical supply chains and in particular close proximity to our national defense assets is exactly the opposite of that. We have a clear choice between stronger ties with China or stronger national defense. As I have said before, we should choose the latter.”

Residents who’ve spent months organizing opposition to the plant due to a range of concerns, including national security, told Forum they could hardly believe they’d prevailed against the city establishment.

As the news bubbled through the community, it brought tears to the eyes of an opponent of the project.

“I was actually in tears when I finally heard (the news), because this has been a long-fought battle,” Jodi Carlson said. “The citizens who have fought against this for almost a year and a half now, as has been said previously, have dealt with a great deal of belittling and name calling. And not just from other citizens – from the City Council as well.”

The Grand Forks City Council is expected to formally reject the city permits necessary for the project at its meeting next Monday. Meantime, Gov. Doug Burgum, Senators Hoeven and Cramer have pledged to help Grand Forks recruit American companies to build a plant.