Air Force confirms it didn't find out about Fufeng until public knew; would have appreciated advance notice

A resident recently criticized the city for not telling the Air Force about the Grand Forks project. But the city says it didn't know about the project's Chinese ties until late in the process.

Jason Patrick screen grab.jpg
Jason Patrick speaks to the City Council during a meeting on Jan. 17, 2023.
Screen grab from city broadcast

GRAND FORKS – A man who works at Grand Forks Air Force Base has criticized city officials for what he said was a lack of notice that the city was moving ahead to bring a Chinese company to Grand Forks.

Jason Patrick, who told the Herald he speaks at meetings as a private citizen, spoke during the Jan. 17 meeting of the City Council to raise concerns about a lack of early notification to the Air Force and Office of Special Investigations about the wet corn mill proposed by Fufeng Group, expected to be built along the city’s northern edge.

The factory’s building site is approximately 15 miles from Grand Forks Air Force Base and has raised national security concerns from a number of people, from residents to North Dakota's two U.S. senators. Patrick, during the council meeting, talked about a recently completed federal review of the Fufeng project, and also said the city should have given advance notice to the Air Force, including reaching out to higher-ups. He encouraged city leaders to “have these discussions.”

Air Force representatives have corroborated Patrick's timeline, saying advance notice wasn't given and also that it would have been appreciated.

“And to date, this City Council, the mayor, the city administrator have all failed to do so all while the city has continued to make claims that you’ve spoken to the Air Force and that you have spoken to the Office of Special Investigations when the record at upper echelons indicate that this may not be the case at all,” Patrick said during the meeting. “To these ends I encourage you … (to) have these discussions. We need to have them.”


In a subsequent interview with the Herald, Patrick – who again said he is speaking as a concerned resident and not on behalf of the Air Force – said the Air Force learned of the Fufeng project at the same time as the general public was told of the plans.

“(The base) became aware of (Fufeng) basically when the public became aware of it,” Patrick said.

In the days following Patrick’s comments at the council meeting, the Herald reached out to Grand Forks Air Force Base to confirm when the base was notified of the project and also whether the city has had any official sit-down engagements with the base regarding the Fufeng project.

Lea Greene, public affairs chief for the 319th Reconnaissance Wing, said that although the base was “aware of several development projects through its courtesy relationship with the Economic Development Corporation, the base learned at the same time as the public about the specific Fufeng project when announced November 6, 2021.”

The “courtesy relationship” between the base and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. consists of Col. Timothy Curry, the base commander, serving as an ex-officio on the EDC’s board of directors. It’s a relationship not specific to Curry, but one that has been in place for years and which has included a number of the base’s commanders.

If the base has a seat during EDC board meetings, wouldn’t it therefore have known about the Fufeng project in advance of the public announcement? 

Not necessarily.

The Herald requested and was given the minutes from the September and October 2021 EDC board meetings. They show that Curry — or anyone else from the base — was not in attendance.


Also, according to EDC President Keith Lund and City Administrator Todd Feland, the EDC generally shielded the name of the company from board members. For most of 2021, it was referred to as "Project Peony," they said.

Feland said the city learned of Fufeng’s identity closer to when the project was publicly announced.

“We found out very late in the process that it was Fufeng,” Feland said. “It was shortly before it was publicly announced that we found out it was a Chinese investment. I concur that (base officials) would have known it as Project Peony because that’s what we knew it as. And very late in the process, just prior to the announcement, we found out that it was a publicly created Chinese company.”

Lund said the project was referred to by the code name to protect the name of the company.

“There’s a statute under North Dakota state law that prohibits the announcement of projects before they’re publicly announced,” Lund said. “We needed to protect the identity regardless of where that investment was coming from, based on North Dakota state law and based on economic development practices.”

North Dakota Century Code 44-04-18.4.5(a) exempts from open records those "records and information pertaining to a prospective location of a business or industry, including the identity, nature, and location of the business or industry, when no previous public disclosure has been made by the business or industry of the interest or intent of the business or industry to locate in, relocate within, expand within this state, or partner with a public entity to conduct research or to license a discovery or innovation."

Lund said he recalls that EDC board members were told that Project Peony was the Fufeng project around September or October 2021. Lund, as president of the EDC and the point person for the early discussions, knew of the company's origins in advance of that time. The rest of the board was then informed in September or October.

Board minutes from an Oct. 7, 2021, meeting show that the company, still referred to as Project Peony, had indicated an interest in making a site selection decision by Oct. 15, 2021.


In a subsequent interview, the Herald asked Feland to specify how late in the process the city learned of Fufeng before the public announcement.

“I would say weeks before the announcement,” Feland said.

When asked if the city reached out to the base within those weeks, Feland said “I know there was reach out once the public announcement occurred, but I did not reach out to the base and I’m not sure if anyone else did.”

Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he had early conversations, mainly over the phone, with City Council President Dana Sande and base leadership regarding the project.

“I can only speak for myself, but these have been conversations early on,” Bochenski said. “I guess I don’t know the exact dates, but we certainly asked for any opinion that (the base) could give on it and the stance was ‘this is above a wing decision. This is an Air Force decision and we’ll send it up the chain of command and keep you informed of any information we get back.’ So that’s been the same message for 15 months.”

The Air Force, it appears, would have appreciated more notice about the project. In an email, Tech. Sgt. BreeAnn Sachs, of Grand Forks Air Force Base, told the Herald that the base or the Department of Air Force would have considered it "beneficial" to have advance notice to assess any potential risks to operations.

“Yes, for any project of this magnitude near an Air Force base. Wind farms, solar arrays, urban sprawl, composting facilities, etc. — each could pose challenges to military flying missions and/or national defense objectives,” Sachs said. “Advanced notice of any large development is always beneficial to allow us to begin assessing potential impacts to current and future operations.”

Bruce Gjovig is a Grand Forks resident and a United States Air Force civic leader, an appointed position that serves as an unpaid advisor and advocate for Air Force issues. He told the Herald this week that he concurs with Feland that the city was unaware that the company was Fufeng until closer to the public announcement.


However, when asked if he feels the Air Force was provided with enough notice and information by the city, Gjovig said yes.

“As an Air Force and Space Force civic leader, there’s been both formal and informal conversations not only with the local base, but more importantly where the decisions are made in the Pentagon,” he said.

Gjovig also said it wouldn’t have made a difference how far in advance the base knew of Fufeng before the public announcement.

“That wouldn’t have made any difference,” he said. “Look at how much time has elapsed. And the city was very good at putting in their development agreement that if there’s any national security concerns, that could stop the project.”

In the email sent to the Herald, Greene said the city and the base have not had any official sit-down engagements to discuss Fufeng.

Feland said the city has had “general conversations” with the base regarding Fufeng, but has not since the matter has moved up the chain of command.

“Once it rose to a higher level than Grand Forks Air Force Base and once it was moved up the chain of command, we have not had formal communications with (the base) regarding the Fufeng facility,” Feland said.

Bochenski also said since the matter has moved up the chain of command, the city has not had any official sit-down engagements regarding Fufeng.


“We were told to be patient and as they gather information, they’ll let us know and they were going to run it through the Office of Special Investigations,” he said. “So they’ll handle that end and we’ll let them do their business. That’s what they do.”

In April, base representatives attended an FBI briefing with city leaders regarding Fufeng.

Greene said when asked about specific concerns on the project, Col. Curry emailed city leaders, saying "if there are national security concerns associated with Fufeng, the City would hear from Congress, a Department entity or Law Enforcement."

During the Jan. 17 City Council meeting, Patrick also encouraged the council to reach out to Daniel Burke, whose official title reads “Foreign investment risk review/compliance & monitoring with the Department of the Air Force and Space Force.”

Emails that Feland provided to the Herald show the city reached out to Gen. (retired) David Deptula, on Jan. 21 to get in contact with Burke. In a Jan. 23 email to Deptula, Burke said he is in “conversation with my leadership on what a response might look like so I am in a holding pattern until I receive that guidance.”

City Council member Rebecca Osowski also received a similar response from Burke.

The Herald reached out to Burke and was told that he can’t provide information on the Fufeng project as there are still ongoing discussions with his leadership.

The Herald also reached out to the Air Force Public Affairs Office. A representative there asked the newspaper to provide examples of news coverage of the Fufeng project. The Herald did that, but has not received a response from that office.


The Fufeng project is awaiting final permitting before it can move forward. It has been the focus of controversy since it was announced, and was reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in recent months. In December, the committee ultimately decided it does not have jurisdiction in the case.

At least one city official believes the CFIUS decision – that it does not have jurisdiction – shows that no issues were found with the Fufeng project. During a city committee meeting earlier this week, Council President Dana Sande said "we should take all national security issues seriously," but he also feels CFIUS was "vague for a reason."

"I believe that they are saying they don't have jurisdiction because they didn't find any issues. I believe our federal government that's responsible for looking into national security issues, if they find an issue, they are going to raise their hand and say 'wait a minute, there is a problem here.' But they're not."

Feland this week told the Herald that he and Bochenski have recently met with the offices of Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer “to receive any further communication from the classified CFIUS briefings,” Feland said. “We did not receive any specific new and actionable information. And keep in mind – classified information cannot be shared publicly.”

Hoeven and Cramer have spoken out against the Fufeng project, citing national security concerns .

As for Patrick, he said he said he will continue to voice his opinions about the Fufeng project.

“I’m a private citizen who has some experience with this stuff and does see where there’s problems and I’m going to voice my opinion because I’m a private citizen and I care about the community and I care about the base and the importance of everything and how critical it is,” he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was updated at approximately 11:40 to clarify that EDC President Keith Lund knew of Fufeng's origins in advance of that knowledge being provided to EDC board members and ex-officios. As president of the EDC, Lund typically works with prospective clients through the early stages of the development process. Further, the Herald noted that Tech. Sgt. Sachs is at Grand Forks Air Force Base and that Gen. David Deptula is retired.

Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 701-780-1267 or

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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