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Fufeng petition collects more than 5,300 signatures

Ben Grzadzielewski, one of the leading members of the petition drive, said that petitioners handed over 5,318 signatures at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Fufeng petition sign.jpg
Cars zip past a sign that points toward a petition-signing site on North Washington Street, just south of the intersection of Washington and DeMers Ave., on Thursday, March 17, 2022.
Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS -- Petitioners who want a citywide vote on the future of Fufeng Group’s Grand Forks corn-milling plant say they dropped off more than 5,300 signatures at City Hall — potentially enough to force an election and scuttle a major business deal.

Ben Grzadzielewski, one of the leading members of the petition drive, said that petitioners handed over 5,318 signatures at 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

“They (the signatures) have to be verified, and then we’re going to have to come up with a game plan and get some talking points together,” Grzadzielewski said, adding that the signature count came in higher than backers had expected. “We had a great group of people that put in the work. I think our efforts are going to pay off.”

City Clerk Sherie Lundmark said she couldn’t comment on the number of signatures filed, since she’d only just received a box filled with papers hours before she spoke with the Herald. But she said their delivery will trigger a 20-day review process at City Hall — and after that, it could be time to campaign.

City Council leaders approved a development deal with Fufeng Group, a China-based agribusiness, on Feb. 22. Petitioners, the vast majority of whom disapprove of the corn-milling project, want the public to have their own chance to decide the issue.

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But it’s unclear how soon the measure will go to the polls, if it does. The next city general election is in June, but it’s hard to tell if the review process will place it there. Lundmark pointed out that much of the future process will be affected by city attorney opinion and the City Council’s discretion.

County Auditor Debbie Nelson said that the county deadline for ballot language to appear on the June ballot is April 11 at 4 p.m. — and shouldn’t be confused with an April 13 deadline to have candidate names removed from the ballot.

RELATED: Grand Forks’ Fufeng deal — expected to bring hundreds of jobs — runs up against anxieties over China

The fight over the plant’s future has raged for months. The city has heard concerns about odor and traffic from plant neighbors — as well as worries about environmental quality and a significant amount of concern about Fufeng Group’s links to China.

RELATED: Anger over Fufeng Group raises concerns, questions in Grand Forks

The city has countered that it is studying any negative effects of the project, and that it can still cancel the development if it foresees serious problems with traffic, odor and more. City leaders have also said that Fufeng Group’s links to China is as something they trust is adequately addressed by federal authorities.

Related Topics: FUFENGGRAND FORKS
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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