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Grassley Supports Rain Forest

James Q. Lynch

The Gazette

January 5, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, 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 Gazette.]

MANCHESTER — Sen. Chuck Grassley remains a supporter of The Environmental Project and said Wednesday he still has confidence in the project’s leadership.

    ‘‘Frankly, I hope it gets built,’’ he said about the $180 million indoor rain forest that at one time appeared on-track to be built in Coralville.

    Grassley, roundly criticized by project opponents for securing a $50 million federal grant for the rain forest, made his comments during a town hall meeting at the Manchester Rotary Club’s meeting.

    According to federal disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Department of Energy, the project has spent about $2.9 million of the $50 million federal grant.

    Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, led a move to freeze the federal funds until the project raises more money. That came after criticism of the project as pork barrel spending.

    Under the terms approved by Congress and signed by the president, the project must raise $50 million before spending any more federal money. If it doesn’t raise the money before December 2007, it will lose the appropriation.

    ‘‘I don’t have to worry about the money being frittered away,’’ Grassley said about the restriction, which, he added, ‘‘should have been there in the first place.’’

    Although he’s not a part of the project, Grassley said he feels a ‘‘trustee responsibility to see (the federal money) spent wisely.’’

    He said he remains confident in the Environmental Project’s leadership, led by Executive Director David Oman, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate, and which includes former Republican Gov. Robert Ray.

    While Coralville remains a possible location for the complex, Oman said discussions are under way with other communities — including Des Moines, Dubuque, Riverside, Grinnell and Tiffin — which have expressed interest in the rain forest.

    A site search committee has been appointed and a final site selection is expected within several weeks.