Residents of Grand Forks, North Dakota, cheered as the city council voted unanimously to prohibit the building of a Chinese-owned corn mill close near a US Air Force base.
The Chinese-owned Fufeng Group paid $2.3 million to acquire a parcel of 300 acres of land 12 miles from Grand Forks Air Force base in 2022, according to a report from CNBC. Describing itself as an “internationalized bio-fermentation products manufacturer,” the company expressed plans to invest $700 million to build a mill on the site with a promise of creating more than 200 jobs for the rural community, the outlet reported.
That promise was initially attractive to Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, who told the outlet he was just interested in doing business, despite murmurs of national security concerns. “We want to do what’s best for the community, we want to do what’s best for the country, it’s a difficult balance right now,” he told CNBC.
Every seat taken at Grand Forks, North Dakota city council meeting. Residents are determined to keep Chinese owned Fufeng corn mill out of their city and away from Air Force Base. Looks like they’ll win that battle – but the concern remains that Fufeng owns 300+ acres here. pic.twitter.com/zCIwAMhU94
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) February 6, 2023
While the US Air Force didn’t initially take a public stance on the issue, US Air Force Maj. Jeremy Fox circulated a memo about the project in April arguing that the proposed plant fit a “pattern of Chinese subnational espionage campaigns” in which commercial enterprises were used as fronts to get into close proximity to Department of Defense installations, CNBC reported. (RELATED: Here’s How Much US Farmland Has Been Bought Up By China)
North Dakota Senators Kevin Cramer and John echoed those fears, urging the city to “discontinue the Fufeng project” and find an American company to develop the area instead.
Prior to the unanimous vote abandoning the Fufeng project, residents of Grand Forks voiced their frustrations with the city council for not looking into national security concerns prior to approving the project, calling on multiple city leaders to resign.
“You guys went all in when there were a gazillion unanswered questions. And even worse, you went all in on the project before asking people if they wanted it. That is no way to run any sort of business or government agency. You ask the people first and then you decide what you’re going to do,” local resident Dexter Perkins told the council, according to the Grand Forks Herald.
“Since this whole thing began, the City Council has been saying ‘trust us, we’re the experts. We know what we’re doing. Everything is going to be fine.’ … Now, we’re hearing ‘we didn’t know there was a national security issue with this whole project. We didn’t know.’ As one guy said, you can’t have it both ways,” David Waterman, another resident, told the council.
A little over two hours into the more than three-hour-long city council meeting, the vote to reject the project carried unanimously amid cheers of “USA” and applause from the packed council room.
Bochenski told Fox News prior to the vote that the city had options to “basically deny infrastructure and deny building permits.”
“So [Fufeng Group] have the land, but they have no ability to build anything on it,” he explained.