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Grassley: Rain Forest Funding OK

Katrina Will Not Affect $50 Million

Adam Pracht

Iowa City Press-Citizen

September 23, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

CORALVILLE -- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, remains committed to funding a $180 million rain forest project and would not withdraw a $50 million federal grant to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief, Grassley's press secretary Beth Pellett confirmed Thursday.

Pellett said she spoke with the senator about the topic, and said Grassley was committed to keeping the federal Department of Energy grant going to The Environmental Project.

While Grassley did propose the idea of an across-the-board spending freeze to fund Katrina relief Wednesday, Pellett said the project was not being targeted.

"He's never brought up the rain forest in helping to pay for Katrina," Pellett said. "It's other people bringing it up to him."

The project involves building a 4.5 acre enclosed rain forest along with a 1 million gallon aquarium and teaching space. It would anchor the Iowa River Landing development, which is under construction southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.

The land still remains in Coralville's hands, however, as project and city officials hammer out the details of a contract defining the conditions of transferring the land. Two city councilors have said they no longer support transferring the land. Councilor John Lundell said he would join them in that stance unless the transfer contract was finished quickly and there was a complete change in the decision-making leadership of the project.

During his news conference Wednesday, Grassley said he expected most of the cost cutting to fund up to $200 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief would come in the fiscal year 2007 budget. That budgeting process will begin in about three months.

But the money was appropriated for the project in fiscal year 2004, with a contract signed between the Department of Energy and the Iowa Child Foundation -- the project's funding agency. David Oman, executive director of the project, said Grassley had challenged Iowa last year to undertake non-traditional projects and said he was glad to see the senator maintain that commitment to stretching the envelope

"The project is well-known, but often times not well understood," he said. "It is very non-traditional, different, nothing like it in the country or even in this hemisphere."

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said the grant dollars were essential to success in the project.

"They're absolutely critical because that really serves as the foundation for everything that we're working on," he said.

He also disagreed with those who would move money from the project, saying that there was a multitude of projects across the nation that had received federal funding.

"Different people have different opinions," he said. "What one person can term as a waste is obviously not in another particular case. So I think it's unfair to target this one particular project."

Brian Quirke, public information officer for the U.S. Department of Energy, said they've been directed by Congress to provide the $50 million grant for the project to draw on. But he left the door open for members of Congress to change their minds.

"If Congress tells us to do something different, we will accommodate that direction as well," he said.