The 50-million dollars in federal money for a controversial environmental project in Iowa is in danger of going away. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley secured the money in 2003 to help pay for the project known as Earthpark , that will be located at Lake Red Rock near Pella and will include four acres of tropical rainforest, and a 60,000 gallon aquarium.
Developers were given a December 1st deadline to show the Department of Energy they’d raised enough matching money for the project. Senator Grassley issued a release today that says the spending bill passed by the House and Senate takes the 50-million dollars away from Earthpark if the project is not approved by the Energy Department before the President signs the new spending bill into law. Friday is the deadline to sign the spending bill to keep the government going.
Earthpark executive director, David Oman, says the congressional action is unfortunate. Oman says they’re grateful to Grassley for "his steadfast support of this national center." He says some of Grassley’s colleagues "rally pulled a fast one" on the project, and Oman says it’s an issue of the fairness of the money being pulled from a "national" project for local projects elsewhere. Oman says the approval process is still underway.
Oman says the Department of Energy continues to work on the paperwork and reviewing it, and he believes they will have a decision "very soon." He says if they have an award and the federal funding isn’t there, no one knows what will happen. Oman can’t say if the Department of Energy will try and make a decision before Friday.
Oman says it’s the Department of Energy’s timing and not there’s and he says the department is aware of the action of Congress, but can’t say if that will impact their timing. The federal money given to Earthpark has been ridiculed by some as "pork barrel spending," including Governor Chet Culver and Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Oman says the criticism isn’t warranted. "Earthpark is a different project," Oman says, "we often get lumped in with some of these earmarks for swimming pools, and parking garages and traffic lights and things like this. But, it’s important for Iowans to know that this is a national project. A national center for the environment, for science and literacy, there’s nothing like it in the U.S. It’s a national project to be located in Iowa, not a local or Iowa project."
Oman says there’s great anticipation among researchers and others for Earthpark. He says they are already hearing from young people who want to work there, and from tourists who’re interested in visiting once they’re open. "so there’s a lot of interest. It’s a project that’s is quite large, both in scale, and a lot of content. Not well understood," Oman says. Oman says Grassley, former Governor Bob Ray and many others continue to support Earthpark.