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Air Force sounds alarm over proposed Chinese-owned corn mill

(NewsNation) — Officials in Grand Forks, North Dakota will decide Monday whether to move forward with a controversial corn milling plant proposal, which has ties to China and recently met opposition from the U.S. Air Force.

In a Jan. 27 letter to two U.S. North Dakota senators, an Air Force official said the project “presents a significant threat to national security.” Because the project site is situated about 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, the city has always considered any potential national security concern a “show-stopper,” said City Administrator Todd Feland.

The Air Force’s letter is dated just one day before a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon was first spotted flying above America’s Midwest. There is no known connection between the balloon, which was shot down Saturday, and the proposed North Dakota corn mill.

“It just highlights there are many symbolic concerns that we have in our country and nothing really trumps national security,” Feland said.

The Grand Forks project has been a point of contention for its ties to a Chinese company since it was first proposed in 2021. The group seeking to develop the plant, Fufeng USA, manufactures animal feed products.

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, Fufeng USA is a subsidiary of the Jinan, China-based company Fufeng Group Limited. It selected Grand Forks for its first wet corn mill processing plant in the U.S., according to the city’s website.

Fufeng and city officials have not spoken since learning of the Air Force’s letter, Feland said.

Those who favored the project hoped it would bring jobs and money to Grand Forks, which has a population of less than 59,000. A large taxing body, the plant would have been paying more than $6 million in property taxes by the end of its 20-year tax incentive period.

Although the project has been a topic of local debate for the past two years, it only recently received official opposition from the Air Force.

Before I get to the letter, let me explain what they do at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

It is described as is an “Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) Base.”

Remotely piloted aircraft systems are based there — and space operations.

— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) February 6, 2023

“…The Department’s view is unambiguous: the proposed project presents a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operation,” Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Andrew Hunter wrote in the Jan. 27 letter.

The Air Force’s opinion might be too late, however. Fufeng already owns the land, which encompasses 370 acres. The city’s local newspaper, Grand Forks Herald, reported that Mayor Brandon Bochenski now is seeking ways to stop the project.

In a joint statement from U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Sen U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), whom the letter referenced. the politicians asked the city to discontinue the Fufeng operation. Instead, they said Grand Forks should find “an American company to develop the agriculture project.”

“City leaders have asked for clarity from leaders in the federal government regarding the Fufeng project,” the joint statement read. “The Air Force left ambiguity off the table…”

City leaders are holding on to hopes that the land can still be put to good use. A prime spot for agribusiness, officials hope to see the space under new ownership in the future, Feland said ahead of Monday’s vote.

“We’re learning and we’re a lot smarter now than we were a year or two ago about national security and concerns with China,” Feland said.