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Rain Forest Deadline Too Generous


The Daily Iowan

November 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.]

Congress, with Sen. Charles Grassley's support, has put some conditions on the Iowa Environmental Project, Coralville's proposed indoor rain forest. The lawmakers have frozen the $50 million in federal funds - the majority of what the project has so far - until developers come up with a matching $50 million. If project managers can't do that by Dec. 1, 2007, the government will take back the money. This deadline, however, is an empty gesture; as we have repeatedly said before, the project should be abandoned before any more money is wasted on it.

The Coralville City Council already tried setting its own deadline for the project, calling for a document that outlined the development plans. Not only were organizers unable to meet the Sept. 20 deadline, but they have still not provided any such document as of this writing. The council had suggested it would withdraw its support if the deadline wasn't met, but the councilors nonetheless have continued with the project. Councilor Henry Herwig said that the council's deadline wasn't intended to "not have any flexibility." Congress will probably have a more traditional definition of the term.

The developers' lack of progress on assigned tasks does not bode well for its success in keeping its federal funding. If they are unable to provide the council with a piece of paper explaining how the project will move forward, how will they be able to come up with $50 million to actually do so?

Two years is a long time. Even if the project successfully raised the $50 million to keep the federal funds, it would still be some $40 million short of the project's $180 million price tag - assuming it does not run over budget. If this money cannot be raised within two years, the project cannot be expected to go anywhere regardless of externally imposed deadlines. The project shouldn't need an ultimatum from the federal government to encourage fundraising.

So far, developers have relied on Grassley's gift of federal funds, and their endeavor is still hopelessly stalled. If they are struggling to independently raise the money required to meet the matching requirement, how will they be able to complete the project within a reasonable time frame? Developers with problems generating funding are likely to have problems with other vital aspects of the project as well.

The originators of the project had fine intentions - creating an educational oasis that would attract tourism to the area. But those good intentions aren't worth millions in federal handouts, especially when artificial preserves such as this attract funding and attention that could be directed to genuine conservation efforts. Why bother saving the rain forests when you can always just build a new one? The project is intended to be educational, but how effective a learning center will such an artificially created environment be, especially when so much still remains to be discovered about natural rain forests?

Perhaps project developers haven't raised any private funds because donors are naturally suspicious of the feasibility or value of building and maintaining a tropical rain forest in Iowa. Why not something else that promotes actual Iowa flora? An Iowa-themed nature preserve would make more sense - and be more likely to elicit private donations. A more reasonable project should have more success. Coralville should cut loose this project before more money gets sunk into an idea that's going nowhere.