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Rainforest Officials to Miss City Deadline

Angie Meng

The Daily Iowan

September 20, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, 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 Daily Iowan.]

Today is the deadline for the Iowa Environmental/Education Project to give Coralville a response to the city's request for more answers about the progress of the proposed $180 million rain forest.

But officials acknowledged Monday that organizers of the project will probably miss the deadline, which was set four weeks ago to provide Coralville city councilors a "terms sheet" outlining the rain forest's progress.

Several weeks ago, some councilors said that if they didn't see significant improvements, they would withdraw their support for the 4.5 acre artificial rain forest located near the Interstate 80-First Avenue interchange.

As of Monday, Councilor Jean Schnake said, to her knowledge, project officials had not responded to the city's request.

"I believe very strongly that we need a project in the Iowa River Landing District - and make it as strong as possible economically - but I don't believe that the environmental project is it," she said. "We need one that is real, tangible, and not just someone's dream."

Project executive director David Oman said on Monday that his staff will not have the terms sheet back to Coralville officials by today.

During "many" meetings with Coralville administrators, officials collectively decided last week that the work was not done. The executive director said he hoped to finish the document "as soon as possible."

"We are not looking at it as accepting it or not accepting it," Oman said. "They put together kind of a rough draft, and now we are working on a clearer, shorter, and more balanced document that reflects our concerns."

Once the document is finished, he said, he will need to take it to the Environmental Project board and Coralville councilors for approval.

Despite Oman's assurances, Schnake said, she feels it is not in the city's best interest for the council to hand over a $30 million property for an unrealistic project.

"It would be my hope that we can put this behind us, and try to hang on to what pieces we can, and move on to a viable, economically feasible, and effective project," Schnake said.

Coralville Councilor Tom Gill said the future of the $180 million project does not hinge on if the terms sheet gets returned on time to city officials. Until a solid contract emerges, he said, he was against the venture because of the amount of city property involved.

"There are a lot of other technical and legal issues involved," he said. "We want to know where the money is, the nature of the energy funds, where the funds are going, no specifics, but it might take a while, in the legal aspects."

Meanwhile, Councilor John Lundell said he doesn't expect any formal action regarding the rain forest tonight. Lundell corroborated Oman's statement that officials from both sides have been hammering out an agreement.

"I think that there is enough good faith for the project," Lundell said. "I'm not worried about the deadline; if four weeks come and go, it's not a big deal. It's too important of a project to not try to work things out."

Lundell agreed with other councilors that the city's main concern was the amount of land that Coralville would dedicate to the project.

"We want to make sure that it doesn't harm the city in any way," he said.

"I'm very much for the project, if it can be built as proposed."