IEEP openness generating public support

Iowa City Press-Citizen
March 27, 2004

Under David Oman's leadership, the Iowa Environmental/Education Project commonly referred to as the rain forest has been increasingly accessible to the general public. We appreciate that Oman, as chief administrator, opts to be open and offers figures that can be substantiated. This approach, seen most recently through answers provided to the Press-Citizen's three-day series about the proposal and at Monday night's town meeting in Coralville, is selling people on the project. While not all are convinced of the project's feasibility, many now are more open-minded.

Leaders of the Iowa Environmental/ Education Project gave presentations and answered questions at a town meeting Monday.
Accessibility and openness by project leaders will increase public faith and confidence in their effort.

For the project to succeed, developing community faith is key. To that end, project leaders must continue addressing area residents' many concerns. Among the questions we still share with many in the community:

Where will project leaders get the rest of the $180 million needed to cover costs? Much of the $90 million pledged is government dollars from the feds and city of Coralville.

When do project leaders need this additional money by that is, when does potential become commitment to breaking ground?

If only some of the missing $90 million is forthcoming, at what point is the project scaled back or can it not be reduced any further to be viable?

If they don't get the money to break ground, what happens to the $50 million of federal aid?

How were the latest attendance, expense and revenue projections arrived at?

Who's left holding the bag if they start but can't finish construction?

What do you think?

Do you still have concerns about the project? What are they?

 In all fairness, we concede that project leaders probably can't answer all of the questions. Organizations certainly must maintain a modicum of privacy when negotiating, and we respect that. In other instances, IEEP board members already have said they honestly don't have an answer be-cause the project isn't at a point where the issue must be addressed. In a few cases, board members have attempted to provide answers, but because of the project's current stage, even they admit responses are nebulous.

Considering the potential economic impact on the entire metro area whether the project succeeds or fails, it shouldn't be surprising that many in the community remain wary. Indeed, the dollar value on this project is bold so bold for Iowa that only governments have attempted to build facilities of this scale. And locally, financing the Iowa City wastewater treatment plant and the University of Iowa laser center have not gone all that smoothly. Because of the rain forest project's scope, we urge caution and thoroughness. Success could lead to nearly unthinkable benefits; failure could place an oppressive financial burden on this area and the state.

Finally, let us be clear that by asking such questions, we're not implying that the project won't work. Oman and many others on his design team come with extensive business background, in some cases involving projects of this type and scale. But many area residents want reassurance. Winning over the majority of the community will require project leaders to continue being open, providing answers and interacting with the public.