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Grand Forks to pause construction on Fufeng mill after federal panel asks for more information

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the city intends to “pause construction work on Fufeng USA specific items” until the federal review is complete.

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Fufeng Group USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash at the Grand Forks city council meeting January 12, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — A federal committee reviewing the proposed Fufeng Group wet corn mill in Grand Forks says it needs more information before it can determine whether the Chinese-owned agribusiness poses a risk to national security.

Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the city intends to “pause construction work on Fufeng USA specific items” until the federal review is complete.

City officials made public a one-page letter from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States on Thursday, Sept. 1, after the document was shared with Fufeng Group.

In the memo, CFIUS Staff Chair Andrew Fair said the information provided by Fufeng is "insufficient." He gave the company five days to tell the federal panel whether it will comply with the request for more information.

A statement from Fufeng Group said the company has been "open and cooperative" with CFIUS and will continue to comply with the panel's request.

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"Fufeng USA looks forward to a successful completion of the CFIUS process and will work diligently to make that happen," the statement said.

Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland said the additional information provided to CFIUS by Fufeng and the property owners who sold the company land will allow the panel to determine whether it has the authority to evaluate the project for national security risks.

The panel’s review is expected to take 45-90 days, according to a city news release.

Bochenski said the city sees the panel’s request for information as “a positive sign that the utmost due diligence will be completed on the proposed project.”

Temporarily halting construction on Fufeng-specific infrastructure would mean putting a raw water supply system and wastewater pump system on hold, Feland said. Other infrastructure projects, including a water main and a stormwater retention pond, slated for shared use by Fufeng and other developments in the area will go forward, he said.

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The CFIUS review is seen as the next shoe to drop in a monthslong row over the proposed mill.

In July, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum asked the federal interagency board to expedite its review. A spokesman for Burgum said the governor supports the city's decision to pause construction.

The mill, slated for the north edge of the city, has generated massive controversy within Grand Forks and outside of it. Some project opponents worry the plant would negatively impact its surrounding environment, though many detractors argue Fufeng’s ties to China pose a security risk to the nearby Grand Forks Air Base.

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Ben Grzadzielewski, an outspoken critic of the project, said Thursday evening that he believes if there are so many citizens who are speaking out against a project like this, the city should listen and consider their concerns.

Fufeng Group COO Eric Chutorash has repeatedly stated the plant will not be involved in espionage of the Air Force base. A leading Air Force base official has said he is not aware of any “clear security threat” resulting from the mill.

Last week, U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both R-N.D., told the Grand Forks Herald they advised local and state leaders not to move forward with the mill, citing security concerns.

Cramer railed against Fufeng and the Chinese government in a television interview with Newsmax on Thursday, saying, “We know how good they (the Chinese) are at spying.”

“My sense of it is (this project) is not going to happen,” Cramer said. “I firmly believe that before this is done, this transaction will be stopped and unwound. The local leaders want to see the process played out.”

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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