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Rain Forest May Flee

Emileigh Barnes

The Daily Iowan

December 9, 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 now officially faces losing a $180 million rain-forest venture, after leaders of the Iowa Environmental/Education Project left a meeting Thursday prepared to pack up and move out of the city should the need arise.

An hour-long conference call - organized in response to a Nov. 18 letter sent by former Gov. Robert Ray to Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett - left Coralville city councilors confident the city could smooth over issues but left environmental-project leaders looking for alternative locations.

"Our position was we could have resolved them," Coralville City Councilor John Lundell said. "Because we couldn't resolve them on the phone today, they are going to discuss other venues."

Points included in Ray's letter included site size, location, financing, and other support issues.

Lundell said that although it was impractical to expect a community such as Coralville to come up with the $40 million requested, business leaders and residents of eastern Iowa have already expressed interest in giving substantial donations.

"That just isn't feasible for a community like Coralville to come up with," the councilor said. "But, with some further discussion, we thought we could meet a compromise."

Coralville is still the ideal place for the rain forest, because the project's educational aspects fit well with Coralville's vicinity to the UI, Lundell said.

The environmental-project board will meet Dec. 13 to discuss responses and overtures from other communities, and Coralville may still stay in the mix of possible sites.

"Hopefully, fairly soon, we'll make a decision," project executive director David Oman said.

Dubuque is one alternative, and Mayor Terry Duggan said on Thursday that, should the team to move to his city, the project would likely change.

"Would it be the environmental project they have there?" he said. "I doubt that."

Dubuque is currently undergoing expansions on its museum and aquarium - which will feature an exhibit about rivers. Duggan said a feature on the Amazon River could fit well with the goals of the environmental-project leaders.

Coralville is not interested in being thrown into a competition with other communities over the project's location and will begin looking for other ways to use the land put aside for the rain forest along Interstate 80, Lundell said.

"Meanwhile, we're going to head off in a different direction and head off into a process to develop other ideas for the land," Lundell said. "I think what we're going to do is engage the community in making suggestions."

The councilor said he has heard talk of adding a water park to the site but was also quick to say he did not think the endeavor would establish Coralville as a major and useful destination.