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Rain Forest Exploring Options

Emileigh Barnes

The Daily Iowan

December 15, 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.]

Unwilling to tag Coralville as its top choice of venues, the Iowa Environmental/Education Project is continuing discussions with other cities, following a closed meeting earlier this week, officials said Wednesday.

They will reach a site decision in the next six weeks, said Nancy Quellhorst, the project's director of operations.

"Both the city and project officials felt positive about [the meeting]," she said. "I think both understand the need to explore other options."

A presentation by Coralville officials in Amana on Tuesday left the city no assurances it will still house the 4.5-acre rain forest and 1 million-gallon aquarium, and officials are beginning to look into other options for the 22 acres of land put aside for the project.

"We were just pleased we had the opportunity to present," city administrator Kelly Hayworth said. "At this point in time, we don't know what's going to happen, and we're going to continue looking at what other options we have."

The environmental project has shown interest in other sites around Iowa, including Tiffin, Riverside, Dubuque, Des Moines, and, recently, Grinnell.

"Coralville's a candidate, but we're not going to put in any more money, and we really need a change in leadership to make this work," said Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville.

Quellhorst said the project is still on track to begin construction next year, and officials remain confident about the 2009 opening date.

Coralville city councilors who attended the meeting included Tom Gill and John Weihe.

"We presented our case, and we left it at that," Gill said.

Councilor John Lundell - who did not attend the meeting - said on Wednesday that he was not surprised or frustrated by the project's wandering eye.

"I felt all along the Coralville location was superior to the others," he said. "The fact we're still in the mix doesn't surprise me. They don't want to throw us out prematurely."

Should the project move grounds, Hayworth said, money already invested in the rain forest through land purchases can still be used for other projects without a major loss to the city.

"I think whatever happens, happens," he said. "We've done our best and shown them why we think this is the best site, and they have to make a decision, now."

Members of the site-selection committee include Leonard Hadley of Cedar Rapids, Betsy Roe of Central College in Pella, and Richard Johnson, a former state auditor from Sheldahl, Iowa.