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Grand Forks City Council OKs Fufeng development agreement amendment, but not without comments

Public comment lasted for more than an hour on Monday and was nearly entirely focused on the proposed Fufeng plant, which has generated controversy throughout the year after it was announced late in 2021

Fufeng screen shot.png
Screenshot from the Grand Forks City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 1.
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GRAND FORKS – The Grand Forks City Council meeting on Monday was again filled with numerous audience members against a proposed corn milling plant on the city’s northern edge, including one who claimed the Fufeng controversy would be Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s “legacy.”

More on Fufeng
The bill comes amid national debate on the country’s relationship with China and companies that have ties to China. Locally, conversations about Fufeng Group and its proposed corn milling plant have gotten heated at times, with some expressing concerns about the company’s ties to China and others worried about its environmental impact.

“This will be your legacy, Mr. Bochenski, and this will potentially be the end of your career,” said Jodi Carlson, who has spoken against the plant at several City Council meetings.

Public comment lasted for more than an hour on Monday and was nearly entirely focused on the proposed Fufeng plant, which has generated controversy throughout the year after it was announced late in 2021. Opponents are concerned about its potential effects on the environment, its ties to China and its perceived risk to national security, considering the proposed plant’s proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

During Monday’s meeting, the council approved an amendment to the development agreement for the plant. The vote was a part of a number of action items approved in whole by the council unanimously. Included in the development agreement is a stipulation that requires Fufeng to secure and have issued to the city a $5 million letter of credit. Under the agreement, the city can use the money “for the recovery and reimbursement to the city of all costs, expenses and fees the city incurred” in case of a termination or default.

The amendment fine-tunes the agreement, and specifically regarding the letter of credit. Among the provisions is one that allows the city to draw on the letter of credit if it receives a non-extension notice from the bank and Fufeng does not obtain a replacement letter of credit with identical terms within 45 days.

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It also adds a provision that permits Fufeng to deposit $5 million into an account owned by the city within 30 days after the city receives a non-extension notice from the bank that would replace a letter of credit.

The provision notes that "these funds would be paid to the city if an event of default or an event causing termination of the development agreement subsequently occurs. In effect, the funds in such account would replace the letter of credit. If no event of default or event to cause a termination occurs, Fufeng is to be distributed these funds."

The development agreement amendment also was discussed at length during the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting last week.

During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting and in response to a question from Carlson, Bochenski said the development agreement protects the city financially and gives the city more oversight. He said a development agreement is not necessary for a company to operate in the city.

“Without a development agreement it does not stop the project. The development agreement gave us 20 conditions where we could stop the project as we’re going through the due diligence,” Bochenski said. “It was the right thing to do as we work through this due diligence process, which has taken nine months and will likely take another nine months.”

Law enforcement, including Grand Forks police and the FBI, visited Carlson’s home earlier this year in response to a social media post quoting the Declaration of Independence that mentioned the overthrow of the government. The authorities ultimately found no cause for concern, a police report stated.

Carlson said she’s trying to obtain a copy of the FBI report about the visit and was told she would have to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act to do so. She said she has done that.

Carlson exchanged several times with Bochenski on various topics related to the plant and whether it has ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

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“This is enough. Fufeng must go,” she said.

Ben Grzadzielewski, another member of the public who has pushed for the matter to come up for a public vote, asked the council to pause work on the proposed plant until a review could be completed by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States. North Dakota’s two senators in Washington, D.C. – Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven – have been pushing for a high-level review of the project. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said CFIUS should expedite its review.

Fufeng Group has agreed to the CFIUS review.

Near the start of the meeting, council members went into executive session to discuss pending litigation in relation to the Fufeng plant, including those involving Grzadzielewski. A number of lawsuits have popped up surrounding the plant, including one regarding a petition to have the matter on the ballot. The petition received around 5,000 signatures but was disqualified by City Hall on technical grounds. The executive session lasted for about half an hour.

Toward the end of public comment, Grant Schiller, a former lieutenant with the Grand Forks Police Department, rose to speak. He said he didn't plan to make a comment, but felt compelled after hearing others.

He discussed risk assessment and said that to him, the benefit of bringing Fufeng to Grand Forks just doesn't exist.

"You hear these compelling arguments and I just pray for God to give you the wisdom and courage to do what's right," Schiller said. "If I was in command, I would say 'stand down now. Don't take this any further.'"

The last audience member to speak was Craig Spicer, a Grand Forks business owner. He asked the council members if they consider China to be a friend, an adversary or an enemy.

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It wasn't hypothetical – he pressed individual members of the council to answer before Bochenski said he must stick to comments, rather than questions.

"You should answer my questions so people know how you feel about this instead of being hypocrites about this whole matter," said Spicer, who said the word "hypocrites" four times in a row. "How can you sit there and not answer the question? ... Everything I see about this project is red flags."

Traffic study

In other Fufeng-related news, the Council approved a report of a traffic study related to the proposed plant. Bolton & Menk, of Fargo, was hired to perform a traffic impact study to better understand the community and infrastructure impacts the plant would have if it moves forward.

The study analyzed existing and projected traffic conditions on the road network expected to be impacted by truck traffic associated with the corn milling plant, according to city documents. Projected future traffic was developed using data received from Fufeng along with assuming some “worst case” scenarios, according to the documents.

The study found that the plant will generate around 200-300 trucks every weekday. When including passenger cars, it's estimated the plant would generate 480-580 trips during the weekdays. Traffic volumes are anticipated to increase by less than 50 vehicles per hour for any given movement at the worst times of day, the study found. It also found that train “impacts are expected to be minimal” with 30 new railcars (not full trains) each weekday.

According to city documents, the study found that the traffic generated by the plant “will have minimal impacts” on the transportation network, but several improvements were recommended by the study to accommodate increased truck traffic. Those recommended improvements included:

  • Constructing a northbound-to-westbound left-turn lane on North Washington Street at 27th Avenue North, and a southbound-to-westbound right turn lane on North 42nd Street at Gateway Drive.
  • Lengthening the southbound-to-eastbound left-turn lane on North Washington Street at Gateway Drive and the eastbound-to-northbound left-turn lane on Gateway Drive at North 42nd Street.

The study also recommended other improvements be considered if future traffic deficiencies come about once the plant starts operating, including:

  • Lengthening the westbound-to-northbound right-turn lane on Gateway Drive at North 42nd Street
  • Converting North 42nd Street from Gateway Drive to 27th Avenue North to a three-lane section.

Other business

In other City Council news, council members:

  • Heard an update on the Red River Valley Water Supply project from Steve Burian of Burian & Associates, including any potential impacts to the water supply in the future from the proposed Fufeng plant and Red River Biorefinery.
  • Recognized city interns from various departments.
  • Continued discussion on the mayor’s budget and the city’s salary plan, including the impact of inflation. The budget will be set for final approval in mid-September.
Related Topics: FUFENG
Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.


For story pitches contact her at smook@gfherald.com or call her at 701-780-1134.
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