Residents concerned about Fufeng plant, but city leaders say it’s an important project for local development – Grand Forks Herald

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GRAND FORKS – At Grand Forks City Hall, the November announcement of a new Fufeng Group corn milling plant was significant and exciting. The promise of hundreds of new jobs – plus millions and millions of dollars in construction work – was a tantalizing glimpse of a booming future.

But not everyone was happy to hear the news. Residents are particularly wary in Falconer Township, where the plant is planned in their midst along the northern edge of Grand Forks.

“The first part of December, we started hearing details about where he is,” said Phil Kramer, chairman of Falconer Township’s supervisory board. “And we went ‘wait a minute, this is going to be on the south end of Falconer Township. How is this going to work, what does this entail and what is the city going to do?’”

And many wonder what kind of neighbor Fufeng Group will be.

It’s a relevant concern far beyond Falconer Township. What will the plant smell like? What will it look like? How many new trains and trucks will soon be running through the Grand Forks collective yard?

“The traffic problem won’t just be Falconer,” Kraemer said. He imagines rail traffic crossing Gateway Drive and elsewhere, blocking travel far beyond his jurisdiction. “You’re going to have traffic delays there.”

Several residents spoke during the public part of a city council business session earlier this week, marking one of the first public criticisms of the project, which was announced in November as the largest private capital investment of the region’s history.

The city has tried to reassure residents that the impact on Grand Forks will be minimal. City Hall is seeking both a traffic and odor study on the plant in the near future, and City Administrator Todd Feland said Grand Forks will increase the deal with the Fufeng Group. if it could not fulfill its responsibilities as set out in an as yet unapproved development agreement.

“We wouldn’t do our due diligence, fulfill our leadership obligations, and do the greatest good for the community without identifying the real challenges,” he said. “And if those challenges can’t be overcome, we need to be able to bring that to the city council on behalf of the citizens of Grand Forks.”

One comparison the city drew on is Blair, Nebraska, home to a Cargill corn milling plant and one of two towns Grand Forks leaders visited last month as they were preparing for their deal with Fufeng.

Blair Town Administrator Rod Storm told the Herald this week that Cargill’s shredding plant, built in the mid-1990s, brings a lot of truck traffic, but also brings a lot of development economic. And he said the smell of the plant didn’t concern him.

“I grew up on the farm and opened bags of food. And when I get that smell, it’s the same smell I got when I opened that bag of feed at the farm feed pens,” he said. “For me, it’s not a (bad) smell. I can tell you that there are other people who, if they receive this, it is a smell for them. But we get so little here from the factory, the weather conditions must be ideal. »

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And the smell might be even less strong in Grand Forks than in Blair. Lisa Botnen, the city’s deputy waterworks manager, said the Cargill plant has its own wastewater treatment processes, which include open lagoons. That won’t be the case in Grand Forks, she said — and she agreed with Feland when he said the facility smelled faintly of cornflakes, based on her own experience with executives. of the city of Nebraska.

“It was cold and we had the windows rolled down and everyone was sniffling as much as they could,” she recalls with a laugh.

Council member Bret Weber visited Blair with other Grand Forks leaders last month. He said he didn’t smell sulfur at the plant, or at Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he visited another corn milling facility. He places his trust in the state institutions that will review and process the authorization of the factory, monitoring the effects on the air and the environment.

“We have to have some trust in these institutions,” Weber said. “The (steam) plumes I saw in Nebraska and Iowa were very similar to the plume I see over (American) Crystal Sugar (in East Grand Forks).”

Grand Forks residents could be forgiven for some skepticism, though. During the summer of 2020, “high-strength” sewage discharge from Red River Biorefinery left a lingering stench throughout the city, linking the city’s agribusiness sector to a noticeable foul odor hazard.

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Melanie Parvey, Grand Forks Waterworks Manager, said it is unlikely to happen again because the Red River Biorefinery incident happened when the sewage treatment plant was overwhelmed and had to divert some sewage to outdoor lagoons. Currently, the city is planning tens of millions of dollars in wastewater treatment upgrades that Parvey says will give Grand Forks the resources to adequately run the Fufeng Group’s new plant.

Some observers also worry about what the plant means for the environment. UND geologist Dexter Perkins has expressed concern that the new plant will increase CO2 emissions and contribute to climate change.

“All the experts say we have to stop burning fossil fuels, we have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” Perkins said. “And here the city of Grand Forks is saying, ‘No, we’re going the other way.'”

Eric Chutorash, the COO of Fufeng USA – the US subsidiary behind the plant – did not respond by the Herald’s deadline to an email requesting information on traffic, odors and related emissions. to the new installation, or a subsequent call and text asking for feedback.

The new plant’s natural gas consumption is expected to be significant. The state’s construction of a gas pipeline through North Dakota is an important part of its construction – and the state’s provision of $10 million to connect that pipeline to Grand Forks was seen as a key victory for the project last year.

RELATED: North Dakota leaders considering transstate gas pipeline with federal money for coronavirus aid

Weber said he would much rather see natural gas used in value-added agricultural processes in Grand Forks than flared in the oil fields of western North Dakota. He believes the plant plays an important role in the city’s future, giving the economy a huge boost that will help create even more jobs in the years to come.

“Some of the most common complaints I get about Grand Forks are that wages are too low, we need more economic development and more retail. And you don’t get those things without that kind of development,” he said. “This is an important way to address what I hear (are) some of the top concerns of Grand Forks ratepayers.”

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