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Our view: Hey, CFIUS. Do us all a favor and say we shouldn’t move forward with the Fufeng project

Last week, Mayor Brandon Bochenski rightly paused Fufeng-related construction items while CFIUS seeks more information about the project. Whether CFIUS will make a firm determination on Fufeng is still uncertain.

Herald pull quote, 9/7/22
Herald graphic
We are part of The Trust Project.

If the federal Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States truly wants to help Grand Forks, it can do one thing: Make a firm and resolute decision one way or another on the perceived national security threat of the proposed Fufeng USA wet corn mill.

Or, even better: Declare that the project does indeed raise national security concerns, which most likely would prompt the city to cut its ties with the China-based entity and end a controversy that has consumed the city for the better part of a year.

Last week, Mayor Brandon Bochenski rightly paused Fufeng-related construction items while CFIUS seeks more information about the project. Whether CFIUS will make a firm determination on Fufeng is still uncertain.

The Fufeng proposal first came to light last November. It sparked heated debate, followed by a failed petition to bring it to a citywide vote. Arguments against the corn mill are numerous, but the one that has brought national attention is that the plant – which has ownership ties to China – poses a security threat due to its proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

It’s unfortunate that the petition didn’t produce a vote. Although its organizers gained enough signatures to bring it to the ballot, city officials declared it invalid because of technical glitches.

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We don’t believe the city should have simply validated a flawed petition, since that would set precedent for petitions on all issues in coming years. A vote would, however, best settle this hyper-sensitive issue.

By the way: Can’t there be another petition organized around some other aspect of the Fufeng proposal?

In recent weeks, both U.S. senators from North Dakota – John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer – have urged the city to move away from the Fufeng proposal. Their definitive opinion on Fufeng has eroded our confidence in the project.

And last week, CFIUS – after being asked to consider it by Hoeven, Cramer and Gov. Doug Burgum – said it needs more information.

Now we wait.

To this point, the federal government has been little help, leaving city leaders to unfairly play the role of national defense experts. There must be some better process.

If CFIUS comes back against it, the project must be nixed. That’s why a strong, resolute decision by that federal panel would be so helpful.

The city is in a tough spot. It has made promises to Fufeng; in the future, other companies may take note of this tangled process and decide not to come here. Many city leaders believe Fufeng will grow the local economy and they base their support on a series of facts – that it would bring jobs, that no government entity has confirmed it is a threat and so on.

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We believe the Fufeng project could have merit for the region and we don’t believe the city has done anything wrong. We’re simply weary of the debate, nervous about the senators’ concern and, for the sake of the community, believe it might be best for the city to walk away from Fufeng and put the controversy to rest. A strongly worded CFIUS decision could make that easier.

Just think of other projects the city could fully pursue without this heavy albatross around its neck – things like an indoor sports complex, or some other large-scale agriculture project.

If CFIUS says Fufeng is not a threat, the city likely will continue moving forward on the project. If that happens, we cross our fingers in hopes that some sort of new petition arises and a citywide vote can be held.

Further, national lawmakers must fix flaws that exist in the system and which leave communities like ours fluttering in uncertainty. A bill introduced last month by Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., would bar China from buying U.S. farmland and ag businesses. If China is indeed the threat it is made out to be, this should be a no-brainer, but hesitating on the issue only puts more pressure on local leaders.

In the end, we see the best scenario as this: CFIUS declares – again, with vigor – some sort of concern about the Fufeng project. If that happens, it allows the city to easily and justifiably walk away from Fufeng and focus the community’s attention elsewhere.

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