Sen. Mark Johnson, Rep. Deb Kiel blame Walz administration for project's decision to head to Grand Forks
When fully operational, the Epitome facility will create 50 to 60 new permanent jobs at the plant, with a payroll — including wages and benefits — of approximately $5 million.
CROOKSTON – A $400 million agribusiness project is being hailed as good news in Grand Forks, but two lawmakers who represent Crookston, a community that originally hoped to land the plant, are displeased and say Minnesota's governor is to blame.
On Monday evening, the Grand Forks City Council was updated on plans by Epitome Energy to build a soybean crush plant just northwest of the city. As reported by the Herald Monday evening , when fully operational the Epitome facility will create 50 to 60 new permanent jobs at the plant, with a payroll — including wages and benefits — of approximately $5 million.
The reason for leaving Crookston, according to Epitome CEO Dennis Egan, was that the process to get an air permit in Minnesota went on for 16 months.
“With our investor pool, it became clear that without a path forward, we needed to look at an alternative site, and we think we have found that in Grand Forks,” Egan said.
On Tuesday, two members of the Legislature’s District 1 – which includes Crookston and a wide swath of northwest Minnesota – showed disappointment in losing the project to North Dakota. They issued a statement, blaming the administration of Walz, a Democrat.
“This is tough news for Crookston, northwestern Minnesota and our state,” Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said. “Due to a grindingly slow regulatory process by the (Gov. Tim) Walz administration, we just lost many well-paying jobs, millions of dollars of investment in our local economy, revenue for our local schools, and desperately needed property tax relief. North Dakota Governor (Doug) Burgum once again stepped up to snatch another promising business from Minnesota while the (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) and the Walz administration push away growth and progress for our communities.”
Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said she is “deeply disappointed” with what she considers slow action from the governor’s office. She said the delays cost Minnesotans jobs and agricultural resources.
“This project has been in process for four years now, and the roadblocks put in place by the MPCA have pushed this important resource out of the state completely,” Kiel said. “I will continue fighting for Minnesota farmers and agribusiness so this does not happen again."
A spokesperson for the MPCA said the agency was surprised and disappointed by Epitome Energy's announcement in a Wednesday morning statement.
"Epitome Energy was a priority project and received significant staff attention during the last 15 months to ensure it had completed an environmental review and necessary permits to meet its 2025 schedule," said Andrea Cournoyer, the agency's interim director of communications. "Working in good faith with Epitome, the MPCA concluded its environmental review this summer and the air permit was expected to be issued in February 2023 so construction could begin this spring."
The Herald has reached out to Walz's office for comment, but no statement has been made as of Wednesday morning.
Karie Kirschbaum, community development director at the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority, said Egan notified the CHEDA on Monday morning, Dec. 5, during a meeting with her. CHEDA serves as the economic development arm of the city of Crookston.
“It was a tremendous surprise, but yet not, because the MPCA has been so challenging for Mr. Egan to work with and for his team of investors,” she said. “So it wasn’t a complete shock, but it was really unfortunate.”
In 2019, the city of Crookston and CHEDA approved a $250,000 business loan for Epitome Energy. Kirschbaum said Egan returned that money in the form of a check during his meeting with her on Monday morning.
During Monday's Grand Forks City Council meeting, Egan showed a slide that noted "global demand is rising for soybeans," especially for renewable diesel fuel, biodiesel fuel and cooking/foodstuffs. The Epitome project, once operational, will process an estimated 120,000 bushels — or approximately 100 truckloads — of soybeans per day.
Epitome hopes to break ground in the coming summer, with an opening date sometime in 2025.