By JAMES MacPHERSON, Associated Press
BISMARCK, ND, (AP) — Governor Doug Burgum is urging federal officials to expedite a review of a Chinese company’s purchase of land in North Dakota for a wet corn milling plant to s ensure that it does not harm national security.
The Fufeng Group’s planned $700 million project in Grand Forks has raised espionage fears among some opponents because of its proximity to a US Air Force base.
“Our top priority is, and always will be, the safety and security of our citizens and our nation,” Burgum, a Republican, said in a letter Monday to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and U.S. Secretary of State Defense Lloyd Austin, calling for an expedited settlement. review of the project by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
“We ask that this review process be completed with the utmost urgency to assist Grand Forks officials in their decision-making process and to clarify whether this land purchase has national security implications,” the letter reads. from Burgum.
The agency told The Associated Press that it does not publicly comment on its criticisms.
City Administrator Todd Feland said the privately owned company voluntarily submitted a formal request Monday for federal officials to review the project.
“They didn’t have to, but they did,” Feland said.
The city and the company continue to be 100% behind the project, even with growing opposition and distrust of it, he said.
“I think we’ve gotten caught up in this national rhetoric about worrying about the Chinese and what they can do, and we’ve become a symbol of that,” Feland said.
City council meetings have gotten ugly in recent weeks, with people getting “angry, loud and vile”, he said.
The issue has drawn people to the meetings from far outside the city and police are now present due to threats against city officials, he said.
The governor’s letter was sent in support of a formal request made last week by U.S. Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, all Republicans, for a federal review. of the purchase of the land.
The Grand Forks City Council in February gave Chinese agribusiness initial approval for its proposed corn milling facility, which officials say could be the biggest private sector investment in the history of the city. the community.
Fufeng manufactures products for the animal nutrition, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, health and wellness, oil and gas and other industries. It is one of the main producers of xanthan gum. The Grand Forks site would be its first manufacturing facility in the United States.
At the time, Burgum endorsed the project and hailed it as “a huge opportunity for growers and workers in the Grand Forks area and across our state.” He did not raise any security issues.
Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki wouldn’t say if the governor still supports the project.
“The letter speaks for itself,” Nowatzki said Tuesday. “The governor still believes this is a huge opportunity for North Dakota to have value-added agriculture. If safety issues come to light, that would change the project.”
China’s agribusiness last year chose a site of about 370 acres (150 hectares) in the Grand Forks Agro-Industrial Park. The facility is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) from the Air Force base, which primarily has an unmanned aircraft mission.
Feland said he was “curious” that anti-China sentiment had surfaced and only recently. For decades, the Grand Forks-based University of North Dakota flight school has trained dozens of Chinese pilots, including from Beijing-based Air China.
The site is also more remote than a Chinese government-controlled aircraft manufacturing plant in Grand Forks.
China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co. Ltd. purchased Duluth, Minnesota-based Cirrus Aircraft in 2011. Cirrus employs several hundred people in Duluth and at its plant in Grand Forks. Duluth is home to the Minnesota Air National Guard Fighter Wing.
The sale was slowed to allow federal authorities to determine whether the deal involved sensitive technology that could harm national security. Former Minnesota congressman Chip Cravaack, who requested the review, said he was pleased the sale had been given careful consideration.
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