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Grassley Backs Rain Forest Board

Location Not a Factor, He Says

Hieu Pham

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 15, 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.]

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wednesday he has faith in The Environmental Project's board of directors and its choice of leadership.

Grassley was asked in his weekly teleconference if he supports David Oman, who is spearheading the $180 million indoor rain forest project.

"I would defer to their judgment about the quality of leadership and what's needed," Grassley said, referring to the two dozen board members.

Project officials said last week after a teleconference between the two sides that they would entertain offers from other cities but keep open the Coralville option. Coralville said it would not compete with other cities for the project and would look at other development options for the land.

In his teleconference, Grassley said he did not have a preference for any of the nine or 10 cities, which include Tiffin, Riverside, Dubuque, Grinnell and Des Moines, that are interested in the project.

Grassley said location was not a factor because the project was intended as an educational resource for children in grades K-12.

"Most everybody will have to travel anyway to see it," he said.

The real concern is about fundraising, said Grassley, who in January 2004 secured a $50 million federal appropriation for the project. Last month, however, he introduced language into an annual federal appropriations bill that prevents the project from receiving any more of the money until it raises non-federal matching funds.

Project officials and Coralville representatives met Tuesday. A joint statement by both parties said that "headway" had been made although a newly appointed selection team would also "evaluate offers received from other Iowa communities."

Josh Schamberger, the director of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, attended the meeting. He said Wednesday he didn't think "anything had changed" from the discussion.

The meeting was initiated by project board members in and around the Johnson County-North Corridor area who wanted a face-to-face discussion between city officials and the entire board, Schamberger said.

Schamberger said he and Lee Clancey, the president and CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, were present to support Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth and council members Tom Gill and John Weihe. During the meeting, city officials addressed issues involving the additional 25 acres of land and $40 million project leaders have asked the city to provide.

Coralville has been the focus of the proposed project since 2000. Plans call for an enclosed 4.5-acre rain forest, a more than one million gallon aquarium, and classroom and art performance space on 22 acres southeast of Interstate 80 and First Avenue.