Construction for an ethanol plant that will turn hundreds of thousands of tons of beet waste into fuel in Grand Forks is officially underway.

Local and state leaders met Wednesday afternoon under a canopy north of Simplot to celebrate the groundbreaking for the Red River Biorefinery. Dirtwork has already begun at the 11-acre construction site that will be home to the 80,000-square-foot ethanol plant.

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"It truly has been a community effort, and we really appreciate all of the support we have gotten from everybody in the entire process to get us to this point," said Keshav Rajpal of BioMass Solutions, the Wisconsin company behind the project.

The project that has been four years in the making is expected to be completed in December 2019. It will turn 500,000 metric tons of agricultural byproducts, including sugar beet waste, into about 18.8 million gallons of ethanol each year, according to the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

It is expected to create 25 permanent jobs, as well as 20 secondary positions that will support activity the plant, including hauling byproducts in for processing, BioMass partner Jacek Chmielewski said.

Trucks will deliver waste into the plant 24/7, and the fuel will be sold in California markets, Rajpal said.

The biorefinery will have the lowest carbon footprint in the U.S. for a ethanol production facility of its kind, Chmielewski said, adding it will not produce odors from processing sugar beet waste.

BioMass partners have declined to say how much the project will cost. EDC President and CEO Keith Lund said BioMass will spend $35 million locally in construction supplies and services. The Grand Forks County Commission also supported the company's efforts to sell $80 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project. The county is not liable for the bonds if the company goes under.

The Grand Forks City Council also approved a five-year declining tax exemption that would equal about $456,600.

The project will add value to sugar beet waste and other agricultural byproducts, Lund said. The biorefinery would not have been possible without a number of industrial and government partners, both locally and at the state level, Lund said.

"The theme of it really takes a village to bring a project together keeps coming to mind," he said.

By supporting the project, the city and partners have helped lay down the groundwork for "continued industrial investment," Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said. The company is the first to break ground in the plot reserved for industrial development in north Grand Forks.

The project has been more than rewarding, Lund and Brown said. It has been an opportunity to develop relationships, they said.

"In the words of (Humphrey Bogart) from 'Casablanca,' 'I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," Brown said.