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Big Week Ahead for Coralville, Rain Forest

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

December 3, 2005

[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.]

    CORALVILLE — Backers of a proposed $180 million rain forest remain focused on negotiating a land agreement in Coralville, David Oman, The Environmental Project executive director, said Friday.

    But project officials will be anxious, he said in an interview, to determine whether the rain forest has a future in Coralville during a meeting, tentatively to be held Wednesday or Thursday next week. Oman wouldn’t rule out the project communicating with other interested cities before meeting with Coralville.

    ‘‘What we need now is to determine our relationship with a host community and that's what the meeting next week will be about,’’ Oman said.

    ‘‘If we can get through these matters, I think some of the little issues can be taken care of. If we can’t, a default would be: there are other institutions and communities across the state that are very interested in seeing what they might work out.’’

    The Environmental Project board had asked city officials for a response by Friday to a Nov. 18 letter. That letter requested that the city increase the amount of land it was offering, help raise up to $40 million locally and provide written support from all City Council members.

    ‘‘We welcome the opportunity to talk to the people in Coralville in good faith,’’ Oman said. He was vague on whether Coralville met Friday’s deadline by requesting the meeting.

    Coralville and The Environmental Project have

been attempting since August to negotiate terms that transfer 22 acres the city owns. Project and city officials have been at odds over how much cityowned land the rain forest project needs, what control the city can have over the rain forest before the facility opens in 2009 and whether the project should meet other provisions to keep the land from reverting back to the city.

    Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said he expects project officials to refrain from having discussions with other communities until rain forest and city officials meet.

    ‘‘My understanding was it was a mutual agreement by both sides that it was the only way to really accomplish anything,’’ he said Friday.

    Hayworth, City Council members John Lundell and Tom Gill and Mayor Jim Fausett are to represent the city at the meeting, which would be in Coralville.

    Lundell said he’ll set aside the eroding relationship and focus on getting specific answers to fundraising concerns, terms of the land transfer and the project’s business plan.

    ‘‘I’ll assume both parties are being open and honest in good faith and want to get this resolved once and for all,’’ he said, adding that he wants time for public input before the city decides to transfer land to the project.

    Gill, the most critical of the project on the five-member council, said he believes there is no way the city can reach a compromise with the project. He questioned whether a meeting will be held and maintained the project is trying to force an impasse with the city so the project can move somewhere else. ‘‘I’m not going to be very helpful with a compromise at this meeting,’’ he said.