Grand Forks mayor, others: Time to pull plug on Fufeng
Letter from Air Force representative declares project a 'significant threat to national security'
GRAND FORKS – 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.”
The mayor’s comment comes after the Department of the Air Force declared – through the state’s two U.S. senators – that the proposed Fufeng project presents a “significant threat to national security.”
In a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Andrew P. Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, stressed the Air Force’s stance on the China-based company.
“While (a review by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States recently) concluded that it does not have jurisdiction, the (Department of the Air Force’s) view is unambiguous: the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area,” Hunter wrote.
The letter and statement were shared to the media Tuesday afternoon by Hoeven and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
Along with Bochenski’s opinion that the Fufeng project be stopped, Grand Forks City Council President Dana Sande also said it appears the project’s 14-month effort to build here might be over.
“I think we’ve been relatively consistent with that if we got any sort of official notification that Fufeng is a threat to national security, that we wouldn’t continue with the project,” Sande said. “Based upon this information, I guess I wouldn’t see us issuing water permits and those sorts of things to Fufeng.”
Council member Rebecca Osowski on Tuesday said she is pleased by the news.
“I’m very thankful that the Air Force has decided to speak up about the project. I have been opposed to the project the entire time and so I am thankful that they did speak up about that," she said. "
Hoeven and Cramer were unequivocal in their joint statement released Tuesday.
“City leaders have asked for clarity from leaders in the federal government regarding the Fufeng project,” the senators wrote in a joint statement. “The Air Force left ambiguity off the table when they said: ‘The proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.’ As we have recommended, we believe the city should discontinue the Fufeng project and instead we should work together to find an American company to develop the agriculture project.”
In the letter, Hunter thanked Hoeven for meeting with Department of Air Force representatives last month. At that meeting, the Fufeng project was discussed, according to the letter.
“Based on the briefings provided, you asked for the Department’s view of the national security implications of the Fufeng Group Limited’s proposed activity,” Hunter wrote.
In December, CFIUS wrapped up a federal review of the project. The committee ultimately determined it does not have jurisdiction in the case.
Just last week, the Herald reported, Grand Forks Air Force Base representatives said they found out about the Fufeng project when the public did and would have preferred advance notice.
Fufeng Group, a Chinese food manufacturer, owns 370 acres of land and hopes to build its wet corn mill. The location is less than 15 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base. The project was first publicly announced in late 2021, and has since sparked debate about the environmental, traffic, and most notably, national security concerns.
In the letter to Hoeven, Hunter said “Grand Forks Air Force Base is the center of military activities related to both air and space operations.”
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.”
Cramer said Grand Forks is a good team “to play on” and should seek a “more suitable tenant.”
“We could maybe expand existing North Dakota or existing American companies,” Cramer said. “Or recruit and import companies from friendly countries – allies, not adversaries. I just think we stand ready to help Grand Forks and look forward to what should be a very optimistic future for that region, both for the Air Force base as well as for commerce.”
While Fufeng owns the land, it can’t move forward without city water and building permits.
In June council members voted 6-1 to annex a portion of land north of the city, including the proposed site of the corn mill plant as well as a strip of businesses along Highway 81.
With the news of the statement, it will be discussed at next week’s City Council meeting.
“I’m a little bit in shock about the whole thing that it’s taken this long for the Air Force to make an official statement,” Sande said. “I certainly have my personal beliefs about who’s been pushing buttons on this deal, but either way I’m not in a position where I can say that they’re not accurate and certainly I can’t contradict what they’re saying.”
Bochenski said he feels direction from the federal government can only be viewed as slow and contradictory.”
“This directive leaves open the question of other entities with Chinese connections across the nation, to include Grand Forks’ Cirrus Aircraft site location and Chinese students and professors at the University of North Dakota,” he said.
The mayor did, however, thank Hoeven, Cramer and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., for support throughout the process, as well as Gov. Doug Burgum.
“I am thankful for the work done by the City to lay out a long and thorough review process that allowed for the utmost due diligence,” Bochenski said. “As always, our commitment to the Grand Forks Air Force Base has never been stronger and we look forward to the future.”
Gov. Doug Burgum, who has supported the project in the past, also said he has changed his mind.
“As we said previously, our top priority is the security of our citizens and our nation. We joined with city leaders in asking the federal government for clarity on any national security implications related to the Fufeng project, and now we finally have that clarity. The U.S. Air Force has stated that its ‘view is unambiguous: the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area.’ Given these concerns, we support the decision by the city of Grand Forks to initiate steps to stop the project with Fufeng Group and will support the city in finding another partner for a corn milling operation,” Burgum said in a statement. “We appreciate Mayor Bochenski and city officials for their leadership and proactive due diligence throughout this lengthy and complex process. The state of North Dakota stands ready to assist the city in exploring additional opportunities for value-added agriculture. As our farmers who compete in global markets know, agriculture is a global business, and North Dakota welcomes investment from domestic companies and our friends and allies.”
U.S. Air Force Fufeng letter by inforumdocs on Scribd