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Rainforest Organizers Threaten to Take Project Elsewhere

Associated Press

Quad City Times

November 27, 2005

[Note: This material is copyright by the Associated Press and the Quad City Times, 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 copyright owners.]



CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) — Officials with a proposed rain forest project have told Coralville city officials to show them the money and the land or the $180 million project could be taken elsewhere.

Former Iowa Gov. Robert Ray, chairman of the board of The Environmental Project, sent a letter to Coralville officials, giving them until next Friday to make commitments on land, money and support.

“I think there are other places that have stepped forward with considerable interest and, before, our people would not talk about that because we were trying to work with Coralville,” Ray said Friday. “Now if this doesn’t work, there’s a feeling by the board we should at least listen to what other communities have to say.”

Ray’s letter turns the tables on Coralville officials who have expressed doubt that the project could be successfully completed.

The rain forest board is now asking the city to make good on its offer to raise $40 million in private money, Ray said.

“We do not have the option of waiting one year to learn whether local sources totaling $40 million will materialize,” Ray wrote in the letter.

Coralville city councilman Tom Gill said Friday that lack of communication between rain forest board members and city officials has been a problem, and he suspects they are looking at other cities.

“They want more money, more land, and even less participation,” he said. “It’s a fact that they’re shopping this thing. That’s what concerns me. I think they have a better deal somewhere else.”

According to records, Environmental Project officials have exchanged e-mails with Dubuque officials over land near the Port of Dubuque and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

The records also show that project officials and Des Moines developer Ted Townsend met with Dubuque officials on Sept. 29.

Townsend came up with the rain forest project idea and gave the project $10 million, plus $250,000 in no-interest loans.

Communication with Dubuque officials stopped Nov. 8, three days before the project’s board told David Oman, the project’s executive director, to make one more attempt to negotiate with Coralville.

Project officials have long said the Coralville site is ideal because the land next to I-80 provides high visibility and provides room for expansion.

Coralville and The Environmental Project are trying to negotiate the transfer of land for the project.

Coralville council member John Weihe said he believes project officials are interested in Dubuque because of gambling revenue there. The Diamond Jo Casino is located along the Mississippi River.

“If they were fishing for a better deal than what we were offering, that’s probably why they weren’t in any hurry to talk to us,” he said.

Council member John Lundell said the project, and Oman in particular, should have told the city the rain forest was exploring other options.

“It’s disappointing to me that while we were having those discussions, he was so actively involved discussing the project with another community,” Lundell said.