The Big Rapids Pioneer, a newspaper owned by Hearst Newspapers with a circulation of 2,350, owns a key piece of property Chinese battery maker Gotion High-Tech had as a part of its original site plan.

The Mecosta County GIS shows the 7.52-acre property that currently contains the Pioneer’s operation:

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CCP Gotion intended to build a 3-million sq. ft. facility on both sides of 18 Mile Road east of US-131, in both Green Charter Township and Big Rapids Charter Township, according to an initial site plan drawing dated September 21, 2022:

The red arrow points to the would-be building CCP Gotion would build in Big Rapids Charter Township where the Pioneer’s operation currently sits. After Big Rapids Charter Township leaders began asking more questions and sought a federal national security review of the company that has documented ties to the Chinese Communist Party, CCP Gotion altered its plans to build only in Green Charter Township.

The Midwesterner has learned a key piece of property in the original plan is owned by the paper, calling into question its impartiality.

Multiple attempts for a response from the Big Rapids Pioneer were not returned.

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The Chinese company’s attempted property acquisitions have sparked other controversy as another piece of property is owned by Green Charter Township Trustee Dale Jernstadt.

Mecosta County property records show Jernstadt has a 72-acre parcel at the corner of 18 Mile Road and 220th Avenue in Green Charter Township, across the street from the newspaper’s parcel. According to the county Register of Deeds, he obtained a mortgage on the property in 2012 for $180,000.

During a September 16, 2022 special meeting held by Green Charter Township, Big Rapids Charter Township, and the Mecosta County Board of Commissioners, a motion was made to “allow” Jernstadt to abstain from votes related to the CCP Gotion project “due to a conflict of interest in ownership of property in the area proposed in the Renaissance Zone,” which overlaps both townships. Jernstadt voted in favor of the motion, meeting minutes show.

Jernstadt did not respond to repeated email and phone contacts by The Midwesterner for a response.

Specifically, we wanted to know when Jernstadt first learned of the potential CCP Gotion project. We also wanted to know when he decided to sell his property to Gotion and for what price.

Sources have previously told The Midwesterner properties intended for the project are being put under contract for significantly more that they are worth.

One owner who has over 175 acres is allegedly being paid $15 million. Another with 72 acres is allegedly being paid $20 million.

A draft purchase agreement reviewed by The Midwesterner said CCP Gotion will purchase the property “is expressly contingent on the ultimate ‘End User’ of the Premises receiving any and all required municipal/governmental agency approvals, all internal corporate approvals, and also an acceptable incentive package from the State of Michigan to locate and operate its business on the Premises.”

Sources tell The Midwesterner property owners are being required to sign lengthy non-disclosure agreements with CCP Gotion with strict penalties for non-compliance.

Jernstadt would not say if he would ask CCP Gotion to lift the NDA to allow him to be transparent about the timing of the purchase and sale, and whether he was profiting from having inside knowledge of the project.