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Iowa Rainforest: Boon or Boondoggle?

Dubuque Officials Should Keep Their Distance from Project Synonymous with Pork-Barrel Spending


Dubuque Telegraph Herald

December 4, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald.]

When the U.S. government agreed to help pay for an indoor rainforest in Iowa - to the tune of $50 million - people across the country were outraged. For critics, it became the poster child for pork-barrel spending - right up there with renovating Lawrence Welk's boyhood home.

Now that private investors in the Coralville area aren't exactly jumping on the bandwagon, we learn that Dubuque officials are interested in the project.

OK, so a rainforest in the Port of Dubuque might have some symmetry with the America's River Project. It sure makes more sense to put it here than in Coralville. But this project is damaged goods. It has been the butt of jokes around the water cooler and the West Wing (the real one as well as that on the television show.)

Dubuque is ready for Phase II of the America's River Project. But before we spend another $180 million, we had better make sure the project is a winner. This rainforest plan includes a million-gallon aquarium. Makes you wonder how many aquariums we need in the Ice Harbor.

Project leaders don't even know what the thing will look like. They recently hired a new architect and say the plans aren't complete. That could be because the last architect's plan was shot down. At a town meeting in Coralville, citizens said that the structure looked like a rump roast tied with butcher's string or a tomato worm. What an appetizing image.

The fact is, most Iowans feel the project in Coralville is a waste of money. Some 56 percent of respondents in The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll gave the idea a thumbs-down.

It's good to know that Dubuque officials are looking for the Big Idea that will center the next phase of development at the Port of Dubuque. Maybe it will look a lot like this project. Maybe Dubuque can snag federal dollars to support it. But the Iowa's Child rainforest project comes with too much baggage. Local officials should keep their distance from a project so synonymous with "pork."