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Port: We can't let local NIMBY campaigns benefit China

If we want reliable supply lines, and if we want to diminish the power of cruel regimes like China's, we have to allow industrial endeavor here in the United States.

A yard sign in the snow reads "too close" across a red background.
Signs proclaiming a proposed soybean crushing plant would be "too close" to town are popping up in Casselton, North Dakota.
Nick Broadway / WDAY
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MINOT, N.D. — In 2018, during one of the most high-profile U.S. Senate campaigns in the nation, soybeans, unexpectedly, took center stage.

Kevin Cramer, then a congressman, was challenging incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. The Donald Trump presidency, specifically its trade policies with China, was casting a shadow over the race, which is where the soybeans came in.

MORE FROM ROB PORT
A lot of people are watching these Republican primaries. North Dakota's government is dominated by Republicans, and there is a pitched battle going on right now for the soul of the NDGOP. These legislative races are the trenches in that battle. So far, based on one of the few objective data points we have, it appears the traditional conservatives are positioned to keep their hold on the party.

As part of the Chinese regime's tit-for-tat with the Trump administration, orders stopped coming in for soybeans. China, historically, buys a lot of soybeans, and North Dakota grows a lot of soybeans.

Heitkamp, tasked with getting re-elected in a pro-Trump state as a member of an anti-Trump political party, saw the pain of soybean growers as an opportunity . A wedge issue she could use to convince a very Trumpy electorate to vote for a Democrat.

It didn't work so well — Heitkamp would go on to lose by 11 percentage points — but while the soybeans issue wasn't enough to save the incumbent in that race, it was, and is, a very real problem the roots of which have been exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and fraying geopolitical relationships.

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Our global supply lines are more fragile than we thought.

This is the lens through which we should see the debate over a proposed soybean crushing plant to be built near Casselton, North Dakota. It's a joint project between Louisiana-based CGB Enterprices Inc. and Minnesota Soybean Processors. It would create livestock feed that would be sold to American livestock producers and some global customers (in Japan, notably).

For local soybean growers, this is a customer for their product that's right in their backyard. It means, for them, a more stable market. One less in the thrall of China and its political machinations.

Instead of shipping soybeans to China to be crushed, North Dakota growers can have their beans processed in North Dakota.

But a NIMBY — which is to say not-in-my-backyard — campaign has erupted about the plant. Per an Ag Week article , a local group calling itself Casselton Citizens for Responsible Growth has been raising complaints about the plant.

They said it would use 900,000 gallons of water per day, though a spokesperson for North Dakota Soybean Processors told me that number is inaccurate. The plant is expected to use more about 300,000 to 500,000 gallons per day and the supply will come not from the Cass County Rural Water supplies but recycled wastewater from the city of Fargo.

What little potable water from the rural system the plant will use will be for things like restrooms.

The NIMBY campaign is complaining about the potential for up to 600 trucks per day on local roads during the harvest months, but that's a misread of the plant's design. It will have the capacity to quickly dump 500 to 600 trucks per day, with on-site staging for the trucks, specifically to keep traffic off the roads.

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The NIMBY campaign is upset about the potential for noise, but a spokesperson said the plant will be located 600 feet from any property line, which would still be some distance from anybody's home or business, and the expected decibel level at the property lines is expected to be about 70 to 75 decibels.

As a point of comparison, this chart from Yale indicates that's just a bit quieter than a dial tone.

But the NIMBY complaints miss the larger point: We need to build things in America again.

For decades we've pushed the industrial sector of our economy to other parts of the world, taking advantage of countries like China where things can be done cheaply because of loose environmental regulation, political corruption, and exploitative labor practices. We've put so much of the challenging and sometimes unsightly realities of industry out of sight and out of mind.

That has to stop.

If we want reliable supply lines, and if we want to diminish the power of cruel regimes like China's, we have to allow industrial endeavor here in the United States.

Sometimes in our backyards.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about things like water use and truck traffic and sound levels, but it does mean we have to balance those concerns with our need to make more things, including livestock feed, in our own borders.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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