City legal bills top 235k as controversial Chinese ag plant remains in limbo

Grand Forks has racked up some $235,000 in legal bills this year in the effort to win approval for a controversial $700 million Fufeng Chinese ag plant that remains in limbo over its proximity to the nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base. Most of the legal expenses were billed by a local firm tied to the city attorney, while just under $50,000 in fees went to a California company for representation in Washington, according to the Grand Forks Herald.

The city of Grand Forks has paid more than $180,000 in legal fees to the firm of the city attorney for work associated with the proposed Fufeng wet corn mill and another $46,000 to a firm in California for services associated with a recent federal review of the project.

The latter was discussed during the most recent meeting of the City Council, at which the council received an overview from Bridget Reineking, of Cooley Law Firm. Although Cooley is based in California, Reineking works in Washington, D.C.

The battle over the perceived threat to national security led to a review of the project by the Committee of Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). Despite the build-up over the review by top federal agencies, CFIUS effectively punted on the national security issue, concluding it had no jurisdiction in the matter in December.

City officials took the outcome as a go-ahead to continue pursuing the controversial project. But just this week, North Dakota GOP Senator Kevin Cramer told KX News he remains more opposed to the corn milling plant than ever following meetings with CFIUS and other federal agencies.

CFIUS In their conclusion, and I’ve had a briefing from the CFIUS organization to CFIUS agencies as a senator over together and a number of us a number of Republicans and Democratic members, mostly leaders in intelligence and banking. And they made it very clear that their conclusion was that it is non-jurisdiction, not that it was a green light. In fact, they shared a lot of information, including some of the other agencies, and all of that being confidential and classified at this time.

North Dakota GOP Senator John Hoeven also adamantly opposes the Fufeng project. At the same time, there’s growing momentum in Washington to reign in Chinese activities in the U.S., including a recently passed ban on the app TikTok from federal government phones and computers. After the inconclusive review in Grand Forks, there’s also the possibility of turning up the heat on CFIUS.

In this case, they just took the politically safe route and just punted and said we don’t have jurisdiction. So, I think CFIUS failed. I think we need to tighten CFIUS up. There’s legislation to do that. There is no doubt it will be reintroduced now in the next session of Congress. Now that CFIUS is done with their review, I’ll feel free-er to participate in that legislative process aggressively, and tighten things up so it’s not so clumsy for the future,” explained Cramer.

So the standoff over the future of the Fufeng plant enters a second year, with both sides more entrenched than ever.