County leaders weigh in on mayor, Air Force’s opposition to Fufeng

Air Force concluded Fufeng's proximity to Grand Forks Air Base presents a "significant threat to national security."

The proposed site of the Fufeng group project on the north end of Grand Forks. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – A day after Mayor Brandon Bochenski issued a statement in opposition to granting Fufeng — a Chinese corn milling operation — building permits to move forward with its proposed facility in Grand Forks County, county officials were largely supportive of his position.

Bochenski’s statement came just hours after Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics stated in a letter to Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer that the proposed Fufeng operation “presents a significant threat to national security with both near and long term risks to our operations in the area.”

On Wednesday, County Commissioner Bob Rost reiterated his long-standing opposition to Fufeng.

“I have told many people that I was against it from the start,” said Rost, a former Grand Forks County sheriff. “I’ve always thought there were serious issues with them building here so close to the base.”

Rost said Fufeng’s apparent demise will improve the county’s relationship with both Grand Sky Business and Aviation Park and the Department of Defense.


“I think we’ll have a good rapport with the Pentagon, and possibly attract future missions to the air base,” said Rost. “As far as Grand Sky goes, I think more firms and defense contractors will come out there to develop UAS technology now that steps have been taken to ensure Fufeng is not coming in.”

Tom Ford, county director of administration, said he is supportive of the Air Force and Bochenski’s stance on the matter.

“I am glad the Air Force expressed their stance on the issue,” said Ford. “Mayor Bochenski has been consistent throughout the process in saying if the Air Force ever expressed concern, he would halt the project. I give him credit for holding true to his word.”

Commissioner Kimberly Hagen said she is glad to have a definitive answer pertaining to national security concerns.

"I'm glad that we have some clarity," said Hagen. "It seems like the past 18 months have been very vague, and the Air Force's statement put an end to that ambiguity."

Commissioner Mark Rustad said that while he thinks Fufeng’s supporters had good intentions in pursuing economic development for Grand Forks, the Air Force’s security concerns should take priority. Despite his support for the outcome, Rustad expressed displeasure with the length of time the Air Force took to publicly release its stance.

“The Air Force’s timeline was outlandish,” said Rustad. “I think that statement could have been made long ago – it’s not like it contains intricate details.”

Commissioner Dave Engen said he also would have appreciated an earlier response from the Air Force, but he understands why the process took so long.


“The local base can’t just give us statements on their own,” said Engen. “They have to go up through the chain of command. It would have been nice to know all of these things a long time ago, but I’m glad we’ve arrived at a time where decisions are being made.”

Engen wants to reiterate that the county had no direct connection to Fufeng’s development process, and simply served to advance economic interests.

“We were just asked by the city and economic development agencies to assist with a very large, commercial enterprise that would provide lots of jobs,” said Engen. “It seemed routine at the time – until we got the news that the company was Fufeng, and everybody said ‘oh my, what will the impact be?’”

Grand Sky is a business aviation park west of Grand Forks along Highway 2, next to Grand Forks Air Force Base. The county leases from the Air Force the 217 acres and then subleases the land to Grand Sky. It is the site of a growing number of unmanned aerial service businesses.

Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky, said that although security concerns regarding Fufeng’s proposed operation were not at the forefront of his mind, he is satisfied with the Air Force’s findings.

“We were not very concerned at Grand Sky – we were always going to be deliberate and serious about the security measures we have in place, in consultation with our tenants,” said Swoyer. “I’m glad the Air Force has offered very definitive input into the process.”

Engen said the commission will now discuss how the county will proceed with a planned allocation of $3 million in ARPA funds to fund improvements to its wastewater treatment facility, which was contingent upon Fufeng coming to fruition.

“We may decide that we have other places that we need to allocate these funds,” said Engen. “We are also limited in the allowable purposes we can allocate ARPA funds to. We’ll be talking to the state’s attorney and city, and working it out.”


The Herald left messages for Commissioner Cynthia Pic, but they were not returned.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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