The construction of a Chinese-owned corn mill in North Dakota will likely be halted after the U.S. Air Force flagged it as a “significant threat to national security.”
Fufeng Group, an MSG and xanthan gum manufacturer based in Shandong province, China, previously bought 370 acres of farmland in Grand Forks through its American subsidiary.
The city council approved the company’s $700 million proposal to build the mill last year, citing economic development success.
However, thousands of residents have since expressed their disapproval of the mill. In August 2022, at least 5,000 residents signed a petition that sought to prevent the mill’s development.
Although city officials initially supported the mill’s construction in the hopes of generating jobs and tax revenue, Mayor Brandon Bochenski issued a statement on Tuesday asserting that the proposed mill “should be stopped.”
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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,” he said.
Bochenski said that he would block the construction by denying building permits and refusing to connect city infrastructure to the building site.
Republican Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer shared a letter from the Air Force which states that “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.”
Although the Air Force did not state specific threats, residents speculated that the corn mill might be used for spying for China.
However, Fufeng USA’s Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash has since denied that the mill would be used to spy on or harm the U.S.
The corn mill was proposed to be built 12 miles away from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is home to U.S. intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance units, including its top-secret drone technology.
In a joint press release on Tuesday, Hoeven and Cramer called on city officials to “discontinue” the project and instead “work together to find an American company to develop the agriculture project.”
Members of the city council reportedly declared that they had not yet approved the project and said they were unaware of the company’s Chinese origins.
The turnabout in the project comes during a period of rising suspicion against China and the U.S’ longstanding trade relationship with the East Asian nation. Several states have reportedly considered bills to limit or ban Chinese land ownership.
A final decision is expected to be made during a city council vote in the coming weeks.