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How do Grand Forks’ newest council members view the Fufeng project?

Rebecca Osowski is firmly against the proposed corn mill, while Tricia Lunski has grown more comfortable with the idea since the June election.

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The future site of the Fufeng group project on the north end of Grand Forks. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Newcomers elected to city government often face a steep learning curve to stay afloat during complex discussions of budgeting, zoning and tax rates.

More on Fufeng
South Dakota U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, one of 51 U.S. representatives who signed the Sept. 26 letter, told Agweek in a prepared statement, “China is not our friend, and if a purchase such as the one near the Grand Forks Air Force Base is a strategic move by the Chinese Communist Party to intercept sensitive U.S. military communications, this would cause serious problems."

In addition to those normal challenges, the two new members of the Grand Forks City Council must step into a highly contentious debate over the proposed Fufeng corn-milling plant slated for the northern edge of the city.

At one point, first-time candidates Rebecca Osowski and Tricia Lunski held a similar skeptical view of the Fufeng project, but their perspectives on the issue have diverged since their election to the council in June.

Osowski represents north Grand Forks’ Ward 2 — where the proposed mill is expected to be located — and is squarely in opposition to the project and the company behind it. Like many local critics of the Fufeng plan, she believes there are too many unanswered questions and “red flags.”

The sales support specialist for LM Wind Power said her greatest concern with the project revolves around Fufeng’s ties to China and the idea of “doing business with the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).” Osowski worries the corn mill puts the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base at risk, noting that the base could lose contracts if Fugeng moves into town. She did not offer evidence for the claim.

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Fufeng Group COO Eric Chutorash has repeatedly stated the plant will not be involved in espionage of the Air Force base.

Osowski, the only council member to vote against an amendment to Fufeng’s development agreement last month, said she’s also concerned with the air pollution, high water usage and offensive odor that could accompany the plant’s arrival.

“I want to preserve the north end of Grand Forks,” she said. “I’m raising my children around here, and I don’t want that type of (air) pollution. I just want to create a good future for our younger generation, and I don’t know if Fufeng fits well into that.”

City leaders have said other similar mills produce a corn-flake-like smell, but Chutorash has said the odor will be minimal for neighbors. If built, the plant would nearly double the city’s water consumption, but Fufeng’s plan is to draw on unprocessed river water.

Lunski, of central Grand Forks’ Ward 4, said she was wary of the project before she joined the council. She said it felt like the city had just dropped the proposal on residents without much notice, but she now understands city leaders had signed a confidentiality agreement — a common practice when luring businesses to a new location.

The co-owner of HB Sound & Light said she has done her homework on the project since getting elected and believes it would be a net positive for Grand Forks.

Though she still holds concerns about smell, pollution and water usage, Lunksi said it would be great to reap the benefits of processing corn locally rather than sending it overseas. The tax money produced by the plant in the long run would also help the city, she said.

Grand Forks has a very tight labor market, but Lunksi said the jobs provided by the corn mill could be a boon to the community. The plant is expected to bring more than 200 agribusiness jobs.

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Lunski said she’s not worried about China spying on the Air Force base through the plant, noting that Air Force base officials have not expressed a security concern.

Talking to some enraged opponents of the Fufeng project can be difficult, Lunski said.

“Some people don’t want to talk. They just want to yell, so it’s really hard. I really miss conversations — the ability to sit down and talk to somebody about why they feel that,” Lunski said. “But this group is very angry right now and some of it is racially driven, which breaks my heart. But I’m still trying. If someone reaches out to me, I’m still willing to talk to them.”

The councilwoman said she’s not sure why some Fufeng detractors have expressed anti-Chinese sentiments, but she thinks it could be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lunski added that it’s unfair, given her contributions to the community, that she’s getting called a “traitor” and a “communist” by project critics.

The next shoe to drop in the Fufeng controversy will likely come when the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States releases its security review of the project.

Lunski said the review could certainly change her mind on the issue if it reveals national security concerns.

Osowski said her mind is made up on Fufeng, and the federal review won’t do anything to quell her concerns about the environmental implications of the mill.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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