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Rain Forest Funds at Risk


Iowa City Press-Citizen

September 24, 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.]

On Friday, the Press-Citizen reported that Sen. Charles Grassley was still supporting a $50 million federal grant for the proposed Coralville rain forest project, even as he called for an across-the-board federal spending freeze to fund Hurricane Katrina relief. In a news conference Wednesday, Grassley said he expected most of the cost cutting to fund the $200 billion in Hurricane Katrina relief (never mind the cost of Hurricane Rita) would come from the fiscal year 2007 federal budget, which Congress will begin hammering out in a few months.

Surely, Grassley, a self-described fiscal conservative and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, understands that in times of national emergency the federal government must sometimes reprioritize its spending, even if the funds in question were appropriated in a past budget.

While Grassley may believe the funds are secure at this time, given the extent of the demands on our federal pocketbook, it would seem to us that nothing is secure. And because the $50 million was first secured by Grassley by folding it into a massive Energy Bill, which drew plenty of fire at the time, it does not surprise us that the appropriation is again under scrutiny.

The feds' post-Katrina scramble for funds -- in addition to the fact that the Coralville City Council has grown increasingly frustrated with missed deadlines, unresolved land-use issues, a change in architects and, last but not least, an inability to make substantial progress in raising the remaining $90 million for the project -- does not bode well for the sprouting of a rain forest in our area.

It is clear that if the the project is to succeed, Executive Director David Oman and his team must provide concrete evidence that substantial progress is being made. Otherwise, it will become increasingly difficult for Grassley and the rain forest's supporters to argue that $50 million in federal funds is not urgently needed elsewhere.