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Questions Remain About Proposed Rain Forest

Jackie Kaeding

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 2, 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.]

Imaginative, exciting, different. These are all lofty adjectives I've heard describing the Environmental Project's proposed rain forest, one of the state's latest ideas for development. In my opinion, project leaders and supporters have their heads stuck in the clouds.

The idea, originally thrown on the table back in 1996, somehow found it's way onto the agenda of Coralville's City Council nearly six years later, and could end up in Dubuque's hands. It's time we sit back, take a look at the big picture, and (excuse the cliché) begin putting two and two together.

Iowa is not known for its attractiveness to tourists. Sure, we've got the coveted triple threat, the Amana Colonies, Adventureland and Wacky Waters. But let's face it -- how many tourists from around the nation contribute to Iowa's revenue? Granted, Interstate 80 runs straight through the state making it accessible, but it will be incredibly difficult to advertise an attraction in a state with horrific winters, containing miles upon miles of farmland and often mistaken for "that one place that grows lots of potatoes." We might as well be throwing an amusement park in the middle of the Sahara.

In addition to the location, the budget of the entire project is absolutely absurd. The estimated construction cost adds up to a total of $180 million. Take into account the incredibly steep energy and upkeep costs for such a habitat.

So far, after years of planning, there is only half of that amount on hand. A mere $90 million is all that the government and project leaders have to show. And exactly how much of that $90 million came from fundraising? Look it up, and you'll find one big, fat goose egg. There is no public support for this indoor rain forest. This could be an explanation for speculation about the rain forest moving to Dubuque. I am convinced that there are ulterior motives behind a possible switch in locations. The goal of the project has gone from "inspiring generations to learn from the natural world," to simply wanting to increase gambling revenue for the nearby casino.

It is clear that Iowa is attempting to grow and expand, with programs such as the Environmental Project and the Grass Roots Campaign. I believe, however, intentions are beginning to become unclear. It is questionable as to why our state's government is willing to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a campaign that is supposed to promote the education of the rain forest and its depleting ecosystem, when all of this money could easily be going to the efforts in rebuilding the earth's natural ones.

What is the point of spending such an enormous amount of money on taking endangered plants and animals out of their natural habitats, when it could be going toward things such as promotion of keeping them and rebuilding where they are now? It is inhumane to move such plants and animals living in such a fragile environment. Iowa doesn't need another zoo, and it doesn't need another coming attraction.

In the long run, taxpayers and government officials should be asking themselves: Where do I want my money to go? Into a large bio-dome filled with high trees and low morals? Or to a fundraising effort that could actually work to improve something much more important -- today's living, breathing and natural environment?

Jackie Kaeding is a University of Iowa student.