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Coralville to Eye Rain Forest

Angie Meng

The Daily Iowan

November 28, 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.]

Coralville officials plan to meet this week to examine architectural designs for the pending 4.5-acre artificial rain-forest project and make decisions about the future of the $180 million endeavor.

The meeting comes after a recent demand from project officials, who asked for additional Coralville land for the Iowa Environmental/Education Project, as well as moving the location farther south. The officials said they might research other avenues for the controversial rain forest and education center.

In the letter sent to Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett on Nov. 18, former Gov. Robert Ray, the chairman of the project's board of directors, asked Coralville officials for assurances that they continued to support the project.

Officials want a response from Coralville regarding the project's terms by Dec. 2, Fausett said on Sunday. If Coralville does not meet the criteria outlined in the letter, project leaders will "proceed with exploring other alternatives," Ray wrote.

Some criteria include handing over at least 25 acres, preferably 30 acres, to the project - Coralville had originally offered 22 acres - and a site farther south of Interstate-80 than had been previously planned in order to reduce the noise level coming from the roads, Fausett said.

"We had felt that 22 acres was enough, but we haven't seen the architect's footprint. When we see the design we will know more," he said.

"I'm still very optimistic about the project and that we will come to an agreement."

Project leaders also want to know if Coralville is able to raise the $40 million it has offered. Fausett said the city already has $30 million invested in the project, but Coralville does not know if the funds can apply to the $40 million the project wants.

Financial documents disclosed earlier this month revealed that the majority of the project's 2003 spending came from federal money - all but $384,000 out of the $1.48 million spent came out of an overall $50 million federal grant.

Meanwhile, some members of the project's board of directors continue to remain optimistic about the rain forest's future in Coralville.

Board member Mick Starcevich, the president of Kirkwood Community College, said he thinks the project has "real merit," though an "overwhelming majority of the project needs to move forward."

"A lot of the controversy is about some of the details that need to be worked out," he said. "The deadline definitely put a lot of pressure on the project, but a lot of the time things like that will draw people together to get done what needs to get done, and maybe that's the point we need to be at."

Also, a project of this magnitude will take a great deal of time, energy, and development, added board member Paula Vincent, the superintendent of the Clear Creek-Amana School District.

"The financing is the major issue, right now," she said. "There are a lot of steps we must go through to make sure it is going in the right direction."

The superintendent also praised U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who secured the $50 million federal grant for the project in 2004 and recently set a deadline for the project to come up with private funding for the endeavor.

"Grassley has been a great supporter on this process," she said. "I have a great deal of respect for him. As board members, we didn't see him as a problem for the project."