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Rain Forest Issues and Concerns

A Sampling of Some Categories of Issues and Concerns

Regarding the
Iowa Environmental/Education Project (Coralville Rain Forest)

Nicholas Johnson

March 22, 2004

Note: The following represent personal notes prior to a presentation by the IEEP (rain forest) promoters at a forum sponsored by the Iowa City Press-Citizen at Northwest Junior High in Coralville/Iowa City the evening of March 22, 2004. Many of these were raised as individual questions by audience members, but the forum format was such -- with 11 presenters each extolling the virtues of the project -- that no audience member would have had the time necessary to make the point that there are numerous categories of unexamined issues, inadequate underlying data, and as yet unanswered questions. It was, thus, impossible, in that format, to pose a question with sufficient introductory illustrative details to make the point that construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2004 on a project virtually every detail of which is still fluid as of March.

The Multi-variable Moving Target. This project has been promoted since 1996 – roughly 8 years. It’s commendable that promoters are willing to rethink and revise. But it makes it very difficult for interested taxpayers to know what we’re supporting, opposing, or just asking questions about. Originally a $300 M proposal, it has been scaled back to $225 M and now $180 M – with the prospect of further cuts. It was to house a school, but no longer. Decisions have yet to be made about animals. Its prospects for attracting visitors depend, in part, on its size. Ground breaking is scheduled for this fall and yet promoters still have neither money to complete it nor an exact design of what is to be built. After 8 years, is there a “go/no-go” date when a decision could still be made to abandon it?

The Lack of Basic Information. It’s understandable, with promoters’ simultaneous focus on fund raising, project design, economic analyses, public relations and promotion, that even if they wanted to be forthcoming the facts keep shifting. But those who question the basic wisdom of this undertaking have often been left with more hype than help in trying to find a window of transparency into what’s really going on.

Attendance and Revenues. Where are the visitors coming from and why? One to 1.5 million represents nearly one-half of Iowa’s entire population – returning annually. The 50,000 cars on I-80 daily are mostly locals, not potential visitors. In fact, it’s 45,000, and three miles out that drops to 30,000. How many are commuters, business travelers, or other non-potential visitors? The country is littered with belly-up “tourist attractions” when attendance failed to meet projections. Why will this project be different?

Alternative Scenarios. No one sets out to fail nor wants this project to fail. But on the assumption projected attendance hopes and guesses aren’t met, what alternative scenarios are most likely: (a) close it down and let it rot, (b) go to state and local taxpayers for subsidy, (c) scale back, (d) other?

Construction Costs. Where is the remainder of the capital coming from and when? What are the advertising/commercialism implications of corporate contributions?

Operating Costs and Fees. Is there a detailed operating budget? Precisely what and how many jobs at what pay (not just $30,000 “average”) are on payroll? What gas, electric and water bills are projected? Other expenses? What admission fees are proposed (adults, “children” (what age), seniors, handicapped, school children on tours, hardship)?

Education Component. What is the rationale for combined functions (education facility inside rain forest)? Where is money coming from? What evidence is there that teachers, administrators, and colleges of education will fund and otherwise desire and participate in programs?

Other. Resources drain (water and power); construction design, costs (overruns), schedule (PERT chart), labor/PLA; conception (e.g., plants and animals); execution (stories from elsewhere: ability to trim trees, trees falling over from lack of wind); parking and roads; negative impact on some local businesses; governance (what provisions for public decision-making power?).