Thousands of residents in Grand Forks, North Dakota, have signed a petition to bar the development of a Chinese-owned corn mill plant located several miles from a U.S. Air Force base, citing national security concerns.
Fufeng Group, an MSG and xanthan gum manufacturer headquartered in Jinan, Shandong province, now owns 370 acres of farmland in the city after buying it from three local farmers through its American subsidiary. The city council approved the company’s proposal to build the mill, saying it would generate jobs and tax revenue.
But the land, which originally grew soybeans and sugar beets, was not for sale when Fufeng offered more than $26,000 an acre. Now, the company plans to shell out $700 million to open the mill.
The site is just 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, which is currently home to top-secret drone technology, according to Fox News. This — among other concerns, such as noise, odor and increased traffic — led to some residents mobilizing for signatures to prevent the development.
“In terms of Grand Forks, its water use, pollution, and smell. In terms of national, it is security. Everyone should be worried nationally about the security issues as well as locally,” local resident and petition leader Ben Grzadzielewski told Fox News.
The looming development has triggered tense council meetings.
“This is crazy. You people want to bring communist China to Grand Forks. They kill people in communist China,” one resident reportedly said.
As of April, the petitioners had collected more than 5,000 signatures. They then filed a suit seeking a citywide referendum.
North Dakota District Judge Donovan Foughty, however, rejected the suit and granted city officials summary judgment on Friday. City Administrator Todd Feland called it a “good day.”
“When we enter into agreements or contracts, those are not conditioned by citizens. And that’s just part of having elected officials,” Feland said, as per South China Morning Post.
The petitioners now have the choice to file an appeal with the North Dakota Supreme Court. But Grzadzielewski’s wife, Senta, who runs a Facebook group called “Concerned Citizens of Fufeng Project in Grand Forks,” said they need “some time to hash this out and figure out our next step.”
They have the support of North Dakota U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, who are both Republicans.
“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 told the Grand Forks Herald.
The Committee of Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), a federal inter-agency body that assesses national security risks of foreign investments, is reviewing the Fufeng deal, with an initial decision expected on Wednesday. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski, a Republican, said it is not a done deal until the federal government makes a position.
“There’s nobody in the world right now than me that would rather have this be an American company,” Bochenski told Fox News. “If they [federal government] truly believe it is a bad project and have the facts and the information to back it up, we’ll certainly follow their lead.”
Still, there are concerns that CFIUS’ findings may not be “transparent.”
“It’s even likely (a review) won’t be public,” Cramer told the Grand Forks Herald. “(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.”