City, township representatives meet to discuss Epitome Energy development agreement
The meeting collected feedback that will be presented to the City Council.
GRAND FORKS – City officials and representatives from Falconer and Rye townships met Friday to discuss various aspects of the proposed Epitome Energy soybean plant.
Epitome Energy seeks to build its $400 million soybean crush plant just northwest of Grand Forks . The plant is expected to break ground this year and begin operations in 2025. When completed, it will have the capacity to process up to 42 million bushels of soybeans per year into crude degummed oil, meal and hulls.
Along with city officials and staff from Epitome Energy — including Epitome CEO Dennis Egan — representatives from Falconer and Rye townships, Grand Forks County, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, Agassiz Rural Water District and the Grand Forks Airport Authority were present.
They talked about water — gray water, potable water, fire protection water, wastewater and stormwater — as well as transportation, planning and zoning, regulatory framework, energy and the airport.
In a previous interview with the Herald, City Administrator Todd Feland said the meeting's intent was to gather feedback as a framework of the development agreement. Information from the meeting will be brought back to the City Council, likely in April.
“It will really be helping us get everybody engaged up front and then get their feedback and input regarding the various aspects of the development agreement,” he said.
Although there was one previous meeting introducing the Epitome Energy project before it was publicly announced in December, Feland said this was the first that was held for various stakeholders to share their feedback.
Over the past year, the city was criticized for not involving stakeholders earlier during discussions about the now-abandoned Fufeng corn mill project.
“This is our attempt to get the various stakeholders involved sooner rather than later,” Feland said. “Get their feedback and then as we work through the development process we’ll continue to engage them throughout.”
One of the components in the development agreement that was talked about in depth during the meeting was transportation needs for the site. The land is situated just north of the solid waste landfill.
Feland said Bolton & Menk was hired to look at traffic numbers in the area. City Engineer Al Grasser went over the draft report, which showed that the majority of traffic would come from the east off of Highway 81 and the interstate. The draft report showed another third of traffic would come from Highway 2.
Grasser said the Department of Transportation is working on cost estimates for improvements to roads in the area.
Another component was the planning and zoning along with the regulatory framework at the airport.
City Planner Ryan Brooks said the site wasn’t included within the city’s 2050 Land Use Plan, which will need to be amended by the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council. Feland said the intent is to annex and rezone the site, which also will need to go through the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council.
Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority Director Ryan Riesinger said some factors that need to be considered are heights of structures for the plant, including the heights of cranes used during construction, distance from the airport, exhaust plumes and wildlife attraction.
At the end of the meeting Frank Matejcek, a Falconer Township resident who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission, asked city officials to reach out to Daniel Burke, whose official title reads “Foreign investment risk review/compliance & monitoring with the Department of the Air Force and Space Force.” Matejcek said the Air Force is still interested in development happenings in the area, even after the city stopped the Fufeng project.
The decision to move away from Fufeng came after the Air Force declared the project a threat to national security, due to its Chinese ownership and its proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base.
“What Fufeng has done has put this particular plant under very heavy scrutiny as well. Even if there is nothing wrong with it, they’re still going to look at all the possibilities of anything because of the proximity to the Air Force base,” he said.
Matejcek said it’s important the city has the security interest of the base within the development agreement.
Phil Kraemer, of Falconer Township, told city officials he hasn’t yet heard anything from residents in the township, but is hoping to get input next week at the township’s meeting.