Group opposing Grand Forks Fufeng project appeals to North Dakota Supreme Court
“The citizens merely seek a public vote on the controversial Fufeng project," according to a statement sent to the Herald.
GRAND FORKS – A group opposed to the proposed Fufeng project in Grand Forks has filed a notice of appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the group announced on social media and in a release sent to the Grand Forks Herald.
“The fight for our rights moves on to the Supreme Court,” according to a press release sent by People for the Vote. “Today we filed our notice of appeal with the North Dakota Supreme Court so our rights as citizens of Grand Forks, North Dakota, and the United States of America can be vindicated.”
The Fufeng project was first announced in November and has proceeded since then, despite efforts from opponents. At present, however, the city is in a self-described "pause" as it awaits potential word from a federal agency that is considering whether the project — overseen by China-based Fufeng Group — is a threat to national security. Earlier this year, a petition was circulated with the intent of bringing the project to a citywide vote was turned in to the city, but was declared invalid by city officials due to technical reasons. The petition had some 5,000 signatures, but the city declared it “insufficient,” citing a list of legal issues with its goals and its formatting. According to past reporting by the Herald, the petitioners needed to meet a threshold of 3,617 signatures, or 15% of city voters in the last gubernatorial election.
“This case has always been about the concerned citizens of Grand Forks seeking no more than what was granted to them by the city’s Home Rule Charter,” the press release said. “The citizens merely seek a public vote on the controversial Fufeng project, rather than allowing the powerful few to push through the largest project in the city’s history.”
An initial lawsuit against the city brought on by Ben Grzadzielewski, one of the leaders of a petition, and People for the Vote was filed in early May after the city rejected the petition. The city maintained that the issue to which the petitioners referred was an “administrative matter” that can’t be sent to the ballot.
“Countless dedicated organizers circulated the Fufeng Petition, and in an astounding upswell of support, over 5,000 Grand Forks residents agreed that the fate of the Fufeng Project should be decided by the people,” the press release reads. “Defying the people’s will, the city decided that the multi-million-dollar Fufeng Project warranted an unprecedented denial of the people’s right to decide what happens in their city.”
In August, Ramsey County Judge Donovan Foughty ruled in favor of the city and Maureen Storstad, city auditor/finance director. It was Storstad’s decision to dismiss the petition.
However, as the judge ruled for the city’s decision to dismiss the petition, he also ruled in favor of the petitioners that the administrative matter was able to be referred to the ballot.
According to the press release from People for the Vote, the hope is that the Supreme Court will "correct the District Court's efforts and firmly establish that the city cannot disenfranchise its voters and place its will above the will of the citizenry."
City Administrator Todd Feland said the city anticipated the appeal.
"We feel strongly about the District Court judge's decision and we think it's thorough and objective and well thought out," he said. "You always show good when you go to a judge and they concur in your thought and your opinion and it gives us some positive feedback that we have done the right thing. We'll work equally as hard to demonstrate that to the North Dakota Supreme Court."