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Rain Forest is a "Boondoggle"

Michael Sellz

Iowa City Press-Citizen

October 1, 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.]

In regard to your Sept. 24 editorial, "Rain forest funds at risk after Katrina":

Sen. Charles Grasley can be commended for securing $50 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Energy for the Iowa Child Foundation.

But who determined this money would be channeled to the vision of Des Moines developer Ted Townsend, who has only been able to raise $40 million since 1999 ($10 million his own)? We are told that there will be tremendous economic and educational benefits if this artificial ecosystem in a bubble is built. Who will really benefit?

Economically it is doubtful that $90 million will begin to cover this boondoggle. There will be construction jobs and it will create employment. But why use taxpayers' money in the Iowa county with the lowest unemployment rate and one of the wealthiest?

Project Director David Oman claims a project like this has never been done anywhere in this country or hemisphere. Is he not aware that one of the highest rated zoos in the country, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, has a resplendent indoor rain forest (built with philanthropiuc and private funds), and sits across from our state in view of I-80? There are also wonderful zoos n Chicago and St. Louis. What reassurance do wehave that we can compete with such world-class facilities in a relatively small metropolitan area? How do we know this will be the tremendous draw proponents claim?

This is called the Environmental Project. It's about an artificial environment. A rain forest in Iowa is a novelty. Yes, rain forests are critical to our planet's health, and we should all be concerned about their rapid deforestation. But shouldn't we be more focused on our environment at home? Let's teach children about our natural habitat: healthy soil, safe groundwater, preservation of native flora and fauna and renewable resources and agriculture.

I propose this money would be better used to expand the Children's Museum. Move it out of the commercial mega-mall next to the video arcade and build a world-class educational center to teach about our Midwestern habitat. Children would do better learning about watersheds and soil conservation than seeing monkeys swinging in exotic trees or a tapir standing in a pool surrounded by concrete rocks.

If the Environmental Project is to show us a world most of us will never see, would Brazil be interested in a big bubble over rows of corn and a hog lot?

Michael Sellz

Iowa City