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County board OKs tax break for Casselton soybean crushing plant

Commissioners said they have no say in the location of plant as some residents against siting.

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A full room listens to Cass County Commissioner Chad M. Peterson speak about the commission's purvuew during a Monday, March 7, 2022, meeting of the Cass County Board of Commissioners in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — Cass County commissioners approved a 15-year tax break for a proposed soybean crushing plant near Casselton on Monday afternoon, March 7.

Commissioner Chad Peterson said they had received numerous emails from residents, mostly in favor of the project.

He wanted to emphasize, though, that the county board has no legal authority with the zoning or permits for the plant.

Many residents have been against the proposed site of the plant as they argue it would be too close to homes and the community.

Peterson said the siting decisions fall with the City of Casselton and the townships.

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However, after the county board meeting two weeks ago on the tax breaks when a decision was delayed there was a call for the North Dakota Soybean Processors company officials to meet with the townships to address the location and concerns about truck traffic traveling on local roads.

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After the group of neighbors spoke with the companies, they learned the plant would use 900,000 gallons of water per day and add hundreds of trucks to a town already dealing with semi truck bottle necking.

County Administrator Robert Wilson said Casselton Township, where the plant is proposed to be located next to the Tharaldson Ethanol Plant, and next door Everett Township are working on agreements on what to do with the roads and other issues.

Wilson and Peterson said the latest word is that both townships were now in favor of the construction of the $400 million plant that would provide another outlet for Cass County soybean farmers who produce the most soybeans of any county in the nation.

After public comments two weeks ago, Monday's meeting was restricted to the Central Cass school district and the townships to offer any input.

The only one to speak on Monday was School Superintendent Morgan Forness who said the district didn't want to be "caught in the middle of any political dynamics."

However, he said the school board has agreed to participate in the tax break because they believe in the long run it would be a huge benefit financially for the fast-growing school district.

"In the long run, it'll be a win-win," he said, adding that the school district is in "full support of economic development."

The Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corporation also submitted a report on the economic benefits of the plant, a joint venture between Louisiana-based CGB Enterprises Inc. and farmer-owned Minnesota Soybean Processors.

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The benefits, said the report, would be a total of 442 jobs created in the county including ripple effects and construction jobs for two years, $39.7 million in new payroll with the plant's 60 employees as well as construction worker and other businesses creating jobs and $885 million in sales to businesses in the county.

That doesn't include the extra financial boost to the farmers with a new market for their soybeans.

The company would receive tax exemptions that would total about $1.1 million per year. However, during the 15-year exemption period, the plant’s owners would pay local governments $230,000 in payments in lieu of taxes under the PILOT incentive program.

The payments in lieu of taxes would include yearly contributions of $107,000 each to Cass County and the Central Cass School District, which approved the tax exemptions on Feb. 14. That equals about $3.4 million over 15 years.

From 2025 to 2039, the soybean crushing plant’s tax exemptions would total about $1.1 million per year which would total about $16.5 million.

Many of those who spoke at the earlier county board meeting also expressed opposition to the 15-year exemption, with some suggesting that a five- or 10-year period would be more appropriate and consistent with what other projects have received.

Commissioner Mary Scherling made a motion for a 10-year tax exemption, but it failed for a lack of a second. Despite favoring the project, she was the lone vote against the 15-year break.

CGB Enterprises in response to some of the concerns said at the last meeting the plant would be double-insulated to retain heat and contain noise, lighting outside the plant would be directed down not up, and the plant would use the latest technology to mitigate impacts.

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A staging area for 70 trucks would be built, with room for another 20 trucks, or 60% of the 135 trucks required during plant operations.

Also the county and state have agreed to construct a concrete road in the area to help support truck traffic.

Peterson was the most vocal about approving the tax break as he said although he was a bit reluctant the plant would likely go somewhere else if the breaks weren't approved. He said Richland County was already seeking the plant and willing to offer incentives.

He also said the soybeans would just be "shipped somewhere else," too, if they aren't processed here.

He said he hopes people would want to live and stay here with the new plant and "see how awesome North Dakota is."

Peterson added that he thought the plant would have a "massive impact" on the county economically.

He also said he thinks the company wants to be a "good neighbor" as evidenced by how they are working with the townships currently.

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Central Cass School District Superintendant Morgan Forness speaks in support of a proposed soybean crushing plant on the edge of Casselton during a Monday, March 7, 2022, meeting of the Cass County Board of Commissioners in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

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