Port: Finally, a straight answer from the feds about Fufeng

What took so long?

A pickup truck parked across from City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting displays one view of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant.
A pickup truck parked across from City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting displays one view of the proposed Fufeng corn wet milling plant.
Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

MINOT, N.D. — The Department of the Air Force has, finally, provided some clarity to a long-simmering local controversy over a wet corn milling project to be built in Grand Forks.

What took so long?

For those of you just catching up, the company behind the project is Fufeng , which is based in China, and whose corporate leadership has ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Local officials, up to and including Gov. Doug Burgum, have justifiably been supportive of the project. Because, on paper, a facility like that is an economic boon to Grand Forks and the region.

But the project's ties to China were always problematic. The project is proximate to the Grand Forks Air Force Base. As I detailed in a column last year, China hasn't been shy about using seemingly benign commercial ventures as cover for its efforts to spy and undermine American interests, both inside our borders and abroad.

Was the Fufeng project a threat to the Grand Forks Air Force Base?


For months and months, as a fierce local debate took place, we had no answer from the government. A review of the project by the federal government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States was about as unhelpful as could be. After months of dithering, CFIUS concluded they didn't have jurisdiction to render an opinion .

Now, thanks to the diligent efforts of North Dakota Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, who took the time to meet with Air Force officials, and, it seems clear to this observer, drag an answer out of them.

"We joined with city leaders in asking the federal government for clarity on any national security implications related to the Fufeng project, and now we finally have that clarity," Gov. Burgum said in a released statement of his own. "Given these concerns, we support the decision by the City of Grand Forks to initiate steps to stop the project with Fufeng Group and will support the city in finding another partner for a corn milling operation."

In a terse letter, released to the Senators, the Department of the Air Force makes it clear: "The proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area."

In response, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, who is among the local officials left twisting in the winds of local consternation while the Air Force and other federal defense officials sat on their hands, has rightly announced that the city will be blocking the project.

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“The federal government has requested the city’s help in stopping the project as geo-political tensions have greatly increased since the initial announcement of the project,” Bochenski said in a released statement . “The only remedies the city has to meet this directive is to refuse to connect industrial infrastructure and deny building permits. As mayor of the city of Grand Forks, I am requesting these remedies be undertaken and the project be stopped, pending City Council approval.”

Now that we, finally, have the input of the Air Force, this is the right move from Bochenski.

Bochenski and the other state and local officials who have supported this project in the past should not be criticized. They did their best while operating in an information vacuum.


Nobody who works for the city of Grand Forks, or Grand Forks County, or the state of North Dakota, is in a position to reach definitive conclusions about the national security implications of a project like this.

That's the federal government's job. That's the military's job. The failed.

We finally have their input, but it should give us pause that it had to be dragged out of them.

What if there hadn't been a local outcry about the project?

What if our congressional delegation had been less diligent than they were about getting an answer about Fufeng from defense officials?

I've been asking these questions since last year .

The city of Grand Forks may very well have gone ahead and allowed the construction of a facility that represents, in the words of the Air Force, "a significant threat to national security."

That's unacceptable.


For now, the state of North Dakota, and the city of Grand Forks, have their answer about Fufeng. But Americans deserve more answers from the federal government about why it was so hard to get answers.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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