Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Coralville Rain Forest Web Site

One Rain Forest Not Worth Saving

Carol deProsse and Clara Oleson

The Daily Iowan

November 16, 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.]

The idea for a simulated rain forest was first proposed to the city of Des Moines, where it was rejected by elected officials and the business community. Backers Ted Townsend and Robert Ray then approached Cedar Rapids, and negotiations were underway when Coralville's City Council and city manager wooed it southward. Project director David Oman has now gone behind the backs of Coralville representatives to try to talk Dubuque into accepting what has become a figment of imagination.

Stop A Vast Error objected to this project from the outset, believing not only that a fake rain forest was an inappropriate tourist attraction for Iowa but also that the financial data provided by the backers were unrealistic, especially in view of the fact that many such projects were unable to be self-supporting and either forced to close their doors or to rely on tax dollars for continued operations.

It has always been our belief that a majority of the area's residents and elected officials did not support this project; but, despite massive outpourings of opposition, the idea of the simulated rain forest managed to stay on the civic agenda through the sheer will and undue political muscle of Townsend, Ray, and Oman. When Republican Sen. Charles Grassley managed to get $50 million worth of pork in the energy bill for this boondoggle, a positive end for the backers seemed to be in sight. This money also permitted Oman to begin drawing a salary against the grant, in excess of $175,000 a year. For its bit, Coralville displaced nearly 70 small businesses employing hundreds of employees, eliminating a significant tax base.

Grassley now seems to be appreciating this fiasco for what it is, and, hopefully, he realizes that the more than $30,000 that he and the Republican Party received in campaign contributions from Townsend, et al., influenced his decision to seek $50 million in taxes for the project.

Until we have campaign-finance reform, the political process will continue to be skewed toward millionaires and their harebrained schemes. Townsend, who has pledged $10 million of his own money to the project, bought Grassley's attention in a way that tens of hundreds of signatures on petitions, several town meetings, and innumerable letters to the editor and guest opinions in opposition to this project could not.

It is time to pull the plug on the simulated rain forest. We hope that the elected representatives of the people of Iowa will finally stop falling for the fancy talk and false promises of the project's backers.
Carol deProsse and Clara Oleson are co-founders of Stop A Vast Error.