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‘We’re moving forward’: Council, in another frosty Fufeng meeting, gives funding plan early nod

Council leaders, who were meeting in committee session, voted 4-2 to approve early funding plans, which chart out the financial future of a north-end chunk of Falconer Township.

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The future site of the Fufeng Group project on the north end of Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Grand Forks City Council leaders on Monday evening dove deeper than they ever publicly have before on a thorny discussion: how a new north-end corn mill built and operated by Fufeng Group will affect the pocketbooks of nearby landowners.

Council leaders, who were meeting in committee session, voted 4-2 to approve early funding plans, which chart out the financial future of a north-end chunk of Falconer Township. The land appears likely to be annexed within city limits soon, and will include the site of the new corn mill — as well as a strip of businesses along Highway 81.

A final vote is expected on the funding plan when the City Council meets in regular session on May 16.

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Along with annexation comes city property taxes and deferred fees for flood protection — a significant sum. And as the city builds out new infrastructure as Fufeng arrives, those neighboring businesses will also see some costly special assessments to help pay for local stormwater and storm sewer and road upgrades. Those costs have become contentious for project neighbors, who say they’ve never asked for this.

City leaders point out that the upgrades — especially the stormwater pond — will help grow heavy industry of all types north of Gateway Drive, and lay the foundation for Grand Forks’ economic future. But that’s a bitter pill for some nearby business owners, many of whom worry what it means for their finances.

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“Your stormwater pond? We have a coulee that’s within 100 feet of us,” said Chris Spicer, whose family owns Spice 1 Trucking, one of the businesses nearby. “The only reason we need a stormwater pond is because Fufeng is coming in, right?”

RELATED: Residents concerned about Fufeng plant, but city leaders say it's an important project for local development

The council’s 4-2 preliminary vote approved a rough plan for how the city will divvy up the costs of projects and services in the area. City leaders chose an option that will place 80% of the costs of a new nearby stormwater pond on Fufeng Group; if plans to build the plant fail, then the city will pick up 50% of the tab, instead of the customary 20% for such projects.

The vote came after negotiations with S&S Transport and affiliated businesses, which is also along Highway 81. Grand Forks attorney John Warcup had negotiated details of the funding plan on behalf of the business, which city leaders say they’ll apply to all businesses in the annexation area.

That should help head off protests lodged by those businesses against the annexation deal. It’s a critical issue for City Hall; if land owners representing more than 25% of the annexation area lodge protests by May 27, the matter could be pushed into mediation, city leaders say.

City Council members Katie Dachtler and Ken Vein voted against the measure. Dachtler was unable to be reached for comment on Monday evening, but has previously criticized the lack of inclusion north-end residents have had as the city has negotiated Fufeng Group’s arrival.

Vein told the Herald after the meeting he’s concerned about the city’s decision to rely on certain state funds and utility rates, instead of economic development dollars, for portions of Fufeng’s arrival.

City Council member Jeannie Mock left before the vote.

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At times, city discussion of the project returned to some of the now-familiar beats of the rest of the debate about Fufeng — that it could boost traffic, that it could make the city’s north end stink, and that it comes from communist China.

At one point, City Council member Bret Weber engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Chris Spicer’s father, Craig, who has made regular appearances at Council meetings. If Fufeng develops the plant, he worries that his business will feel some of its worst effects — especially the smell.

Weber told council chambers that he’d never expected when he ran for council that he’d be defending major economic projects — but there he was, he said, because he believed it was important for the city’s future.

“You either grow or you shrink,” he said.

Related Topics: FUFENG
Sam Easter is a Michigan-based freelance reporter who has been a regular contributor to the Herald since 2019. He covers a variety of topics, including government and politics.

In 2015, he joined the Herald’s staff as City Hall reporter, covering North Dakota politics at all levels and conducting Herald investigations through early 2018, when he returned to Michigan and began his freelancing career.

Easter can be reached at samkweaster@gmail.com or via Twitter via @samkweaster.
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