Critics are questioning the timing and motives behind Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s move to change the wording in a spending bill so an indoor rainforest and educational center may be built not just in Coralville but anywhere in the state. Grassley will not comment about what he called “anonymous” critics on web-logs or “blogs” on the Internet, but he defends the 50-million dollars in federal funding for the project — which still has no home.
Grassley says: “Where the rainforest was going to be was never an issue about the Congressional appropriation. That obviously came because of the strong support the project had in Iowa and the value of the project to economic development in Iowa, the creation of jobs, the educational benefits of it and the environmental benefits of it.” Developers of the rainforest project broke off negotiations last week with Coralville leaders and are considering other locations. Grassley’s changes in the bill were made and signed by President Bush last month, before Coralville was out of the running.
Grassley explained why he made the changes. “I wanted to make sure that the private money was going to be raised and so recently, I put restrictions on the use of the federal tax dollars to make sure that there (were) incentives and people would follow through with the promise of donating of private funds,” Grassley says. Under those restrictions, backers of the rainforest project have to raise 50-million dollars over the next two years or they’ll lose whatever remains of another 50-million being put up by the federal government.
Grassley says: “My relationship with it has been entirely related to the wise expenditure and the matching expenditure aspect of the federal dollars.” Rainforest project officials say as many as nine Iowa communities are now in the running for the proposed 200-acre, 180-million dollar facility. Former Iowa Governor Robert Ray and Ray’s former chief of staff, David Oman, are leading the push for the rain forest project. Ray, Oman and Grassley are all Republicans.