Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer advise Grand Forks to move on from Fufeng project
"Both Kevin and I have advised them that we think that because of security concerns, it’d be better to find some other company to work with on the ag part,” Sen. John Hoeven told the Herald.
GRAND FORKS – Both of North Dakota’s U.S. senators have advised local and state leaders that they believe the corn milling plant at the heart of contentious debate – a debate that sparked in Grand Forks but has become a national conversation – should not move forward.
U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both Republicans, told the Herald on Wednesday afternoon that they believe the corn mill project brought forward by Fufeng Group should not proceed due to security concerns.
“They should try to find some other company to work with on the ag part,” Hoeven said, noting the leaders – including Mayor Brandon Bochenski and Gov. Doug Burgum – had asked for his and Cramer’s input on the project.
Those discussions happened several weeks ago, Hoeven said. He said the senators have been talking with local leaders about the project along the way.
The plant, which would sit on the north edge of the city, has caused significant controversy both in and outside of Grand Forks. Opponents are concerned about its potential effect on the environment, the company’s ties to China and its perceived risk to national security, considering the proposed plant’s proximity to Grand Forks Air Force Base. It has also sparked hours upon hours of discussion – and heated public comments – at Grand Forks City Council meetings over the last nine months.
At present, local and state elected leaders are awaiting word on whether the project will come under review of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an organization that reviews selected foreign investment deals to determine their potential effect on national security.
Fufeng’s plant, many of its opponents have noted, is within 15 miles of Grand Forks Air Force Base.
Among those calling for the review have been Burgum , Hoeven, Cramer and even Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio . There also has been talk in Washington about proposals to bar China from buying U.S. farmland .
The city intends to keep moving forward with the CFIUS process. City Administrator Todd Feland said the city is awaiting a response about CFIUS’s jurisdictional review by the end of August. Fufeng has agreed, per a development agreement with the city and generally, to share that information with the city. Feland said there will be further conversations with local and state leaders once the city gets that response.
Hoeven and Cramer said the findings of the review may not make it to the public.
“The concern with the CFIUS process is that that information isn’t public necessarily,” Hoeven said. “We don’t know what is going to be public because of CFIUS. If that’s what the city decides to do, that’s their call, but both Kevin and I have advised them that we think that because of security concerns, it’d be better to find some other company to work with on the ag part.”
Hoeven said the CFIUS process “may not be transparent” and that any security concerns revealed in a review may not reach the public.
“It’s even likely (a review) won’t be public,” Cramer said. “(The CFIUS process) isn’t designed to be public. The findings aren’t made public. … Even if we, in a classified setting, were to learn the findings, that doesn’t really help a lot.”
Feland said city administration will share any information they receive from Fufeng about a CFIUS review with the City Council, and therefore the broader city at large.
Even as controversy continues to swirl around the project and the city receives pushback on it, Feland says city leaders don’t intend to hit the brakes on it or end it entirely now. If it’s not the right project, whether environmentally or for national security reasons, it won’t move forward, Feland said, adding that’s why the development agreement with Fufeng exists.
“For us to say that it’s gotten hard and we’re just going to give up or let go, that’s an awfully hard symbol,” he said. “... Mayor Bochenski, city administration and the City Council are not going to send the message out that when the going gets tough, the city of Grand Forks gives up.”
Meanwhile, he said, the city is “not going to harm our community environmentally, from an engineering perspective, from an infrastructure perspective or on national security."
“We’re not going to do anything that would harm all the hard work that we’ve been working on with the Grand Forks Air Force Base and the really great spot that it’s in right now,” he said, adding the city has said from the beginning that it would not do anything to erode national security and the base’s national standing.