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Commission OKs two Fufeng measures

The approvals help move Fufeng Group closer to construction on a massive corn-milling plant that proponents say will dramatically boost Grand Forks’ local economy.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall (Grand Forks Herald Photo by Sam Easter)
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks’ Planning and Zoning Commission voted on Wednesday evening to approve two measures related to the arrival of a new corn-milling plant from Chinese agribusiness Fufeng Group — a redrawing of property lines within the area where the plant is planned, and a zoning change to make way for its construction.

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Those votes passed 8-1 and 7-2, respectively, with commission member Frank Matejcek opposed to both. He is a resident of Falconer Township and has regularly harbored concerns about the impact on the community on Grand Forks’ northern border, where the plant will be placed.

The zoning change also was opposed by commission member Alex Reichert.

The approvals help move Fufeng Group closer to construction on a massive corn-milling plant that proponents say will dramatically boost Grand Forks’ local economy. But it’s been opposed by local residents who fret about the plant’s effects — on traffic, odor and more.

Multiple residents addressed the commission on Wednesday evening, sharing precisely those concerns. One common theme was concern about plant odors — during the meeting the commission heard a presentation from city officials on the facility's industrial waste. Many residents are unconvinced the impact would be minimal.

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“A lot of people are going to move because Grand Forks, North Dakota, is going to be nothing but a s***hole,” one woman told commission members.

Other concerns were linked to the project’s ties to China, and at times veered into language that blurred the distinction between Chinese people and the Chinese government — a worrying trend for some observers. One woman, who declined to give her address, referred to “Chinese nationals” as “by definition, spies.”

A man who identified himself as a veteran said he is concerned about the possibility of Chinese espionage at the new plant — especially given its proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base. In response, Reichert asked him what about the plant would make it more advantageous for spying than any other building in the city.

“Quite frankly, I think it would be harder (to conceal espionage) if you have 150 John Smiths running around saying, ‘What is this room we can’t go into with all the antennas coming out of it?’ As opposed to the house I have next door where I would have no idea,” Reichert said.

Both measures approved on Wednesday evening require a final vote from the City Council.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Sam Easter is a Michigan-based freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he returned to Michigan and began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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