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Biorefinery asks Grand Forks County to help it sell $80 million in bonds

Red River BioRefinery plans to turn biological waste, including waste from sugar beets, into ethanol.

GRAND FORKS—A company that wants to build a biorefinery north of Grand Forks has asked the county to issue $80 million in bonds on its behalf.

The Grand Forks County Commission approved during a Tuesday, Feb. 6, meeting a resolution that sets the stage for a public hearing for the Red River BioRefinery bond. The $80 million bond has not been approved, but if the commission does say yes, the county would facilitate selling the bonds for the company. The bonds also would be tax-exempt.

A subsidiary of the Wisconsin-based renewable energy company BioMass Solution, Red River BioRefinery plans to build an 80,000-square-foot facility on an 11-acre plot of land north of Simplot, according to a Grand Forks city staff report. The company will use biological waste from food processors in the region—for example, waste from sugar beets and potatoes—and turn it into ethanol, said Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. It then would sell the ethanol in Canadian and Californian markets, according to the report.

The company has been hesitant to release details on the project. Citing trade secrets, the Commerce Department redacted certain information from a June 2016 application, which did not include information about the proposed site and size. The application also said the company was "shooting for the 2017 sugar beet campaign," according to Grand Forks Herald archives.

Jacek Chmielewski, a principal owner with BioMass, told the Herald on Wednesday, Jan. 7, the company is still working out the details of the project, and he declined to disclose the estimated cost or timeframe of completion for the biorefinery.

In September, the Grand Forks City Council approved a five-year declining tax exemption in the amount of $456,600. The bond, if issued, would go toward financing the project.

The county is not liable for the bond, Lund said, adding the bond would not result in a tax increase for residents.

The county must give a two-week notice for a public hearing before it votes on the bond.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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