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Grand Forks UAS company General Atomics comes out against Fufeng project

General Atomics said the proposed project “represents a major vulnerability for maintaining the necessary secrecy and integrity of classified weapons, communications frequencies, satellite connectivity and many other technologies vital to global security.”

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Attendees in the Grand Forks City Council chambers listen to discussion of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant Monday, April 18, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — General Atomics, a California-based unmanned aircraft manufacturer with a location in Grand Forks, says it opposes the proposed Fufeng project.

In a release posted on the General Atomics website on Tuesday, Sept. 20, the company says it “firmly opposes a new Chinese agricultural investment near Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., and calls on the U.S. government to halt the project.”

General Atomics, with a location near the base, recently grew its flight test and training center in 2018.

The proposed wet corn milling plant has generated significant controversy in and around Grand Forks due to its proximity to the base and its perceived national security threats. It was first announced in late 2021 and discussion about it at Grand Forks City Council meetings has sparked intense public interest, both locally and nationally.

In the release, General Atomics said the proposed project “represents a major vulnerability for maintaining the necessary secrecy and integrity of classified weapons, communications frequencies, satellite connectivity and many other technologies vital to global security.”

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“Chinese business efforts are inextricably linked with Chinese government efforts,” General Atomics spokesman C. Mark Brinkley said in the release. “We can’t ignore the opportunity for sophisticated military espionage to co-locate itself within a Chinese business of such scale and scope. Given the proximity to critical national airspace and sensitive military operations on and around Grand Forks Air Force Base, American leaders should be very, very concerned. I know I am. So, we’ve got to act.”

The city has paused construction work on “Fufeng USA specific items” until a review of the plant is completed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal panel tasked with reviewing foreign land deals in the country.

Brinkley said CFIUS or another similar authority “must stop the corn mill project.” The release went on to say the project may present “problems for America’s allies too,” adding international crews will be at General Atomics later this year.

General Atomics "recognizes that the proposed corn mill would be located on American soil and may be operated by many U.S. citizen employees, but its foreign ownership and control mean there is no simple way to ensure the facility does not someday play host to electronic surveillance or other activities that pose security risks to American and allied unmanned aviation,” the release said.

Brinkley said the company understands the “significant economic opportunities” for the city of Grand Forks and North Dakota, “but no measure of assurances from the company can ever offset the tremendous risk being introduced. The strategic national security value of Grand Forks cannot be overstated, and that’s why we’re asking the U.S. government to act swiftly to protect this asset.”

The announcement was posted the same day a gathering was held to recognize site preparation for Fufeng . Fufeng has begun site prep on the land, which it owns. There were no city employees at the gathering on Tuesday, though Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, was in attendance. Fufeng COO Eric Chutorash also was present.

READ MORE FUFENG CONTENT
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."

“That site preparation, we understand, consists of constructing a temporary access road and a laid down area for construction material,” Lund said, adding that construction on the site won’t happen this year.

The gathering drew concern from nearby residents and project opponents.

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“I think it was kind of a surprise. I got a phone call from somebody that said they had like 20 flags out there,” Sheila Spicer, an opponent of the proposal who lives near the site of the proposed Fufeng plant, said. “[They] had bulldozers sitting and they went and put the Fufeng sign up on it and nobody knew about it.”

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A Fufeng USA sign is draped across the front end of a bulldozer at the site of the corn wet milling and bio-fermentation products manufacturer on the north end of Grand Forks, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. A small ceremony was held at the site Tuesday as the project moves forward.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Late last month, U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both Republicans from North Dakota, advised the city to not move forward on the project , due to national security concerns. Shortly after, CFIUS said it needed more information before it could determine if the Chinese-owned agribusiness poses a national security risk, prompting Mayor Brandon Bochenski to pause construction work on Fufeng-related items .

Infrastructure projects within the annexation area are moving forward.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.


For story pitches contact her at smook@gfherald.com or call her at 701-780-1134.
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