Friday, September 01, 2006

Rain Forest Breaks Silence, Not Ground

The rain forest folks have the darnest ways of getting out the news -- Boston papers, small town Iowa weeklies, and now KWWL-TV7, Waterloo, "Earthpark Board Tours Proposed Sites," KWWL-TV7, August 30, 2006.

I'm indebted to State 29 ("Lake Red Pork or Riverpork?" August 31, 2006) who brought this to my attention, kindly noted my past comments on the subject, and invited me to have "a field day" with the KWWL item.

And I also appreciate Bradley Franzwa sending it along.

You may recall when last we heard about rain forest site selection, that David Oman, who originally hinted the final decision of a location might be made in January 2006 -- and subsequently extended this "deadline" to February, March, April, May, June, July, and August -- most recently promised that the board would made its decision in September.

Well, according to KWWL's exclusive, news-breaking story, while the board has not yet made this very difficult decision it has -- nine months later -- gone to look at the two remaining sites: Pella and Riverside. (All other sites have chosen to drop out; none was actually "rejected"). According to KWWL, this is "the first time the Earthpark board members toured the two proposed sites as a group" -- a rather stunning admission.

As is often the case, the greatest revelations are at the end of KWWl's piece. Let's take them in turn:

1. "The city of Riverside still needs to come up with about $5 million."

Notwithstanding the total disconnect between assertions and data, Oman and others have been saying for months that both Pella and Riverside have "met or exceeded" the rain forest's demands that the selected city come up with $25 million.

Now they're finally admitting this was not true? Only now they've discovered "Riverside still needs to come up with about $5 million"?

And "$5 million"?! Isn't $20 million more like it?

In Riverside, the casino owner -- said to be the source of $10 million of the $25 million -- has not yet actually contributed anything to the rain forest so far as we know. His pledge, if that's what it is, represents only $1 million as a down payment, with promises of a million a year until $10 million has been given. So that's somewhere between $0 and $1 million.

His parents have promised $2 million -- unless their contribution is also spread over time. So that is something between $0 and $2 million, for a total of something between $0 and $3 million.

The rest -- according to David Oman and the casino owner -- is said to be $800,000 a year for ten years from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation. But the Foundation has yet to receive a request for the money, let alone discuss, vote, and grant it. The casino owner and Oman have sort of spoken for the Foundation -- which is supposed to be independent of the casino and beyond the control of those two. So, if they ever get that $800,000 (and there's considerable dissention within the community over transferring money -- originally promised for things like libraries and schools -- to a rain forest) we see a maximum of $3.8 million of the $25 million Oman has demanded actually in hand.

$25 million "met or exceeded."?! Only a $5 million shortfall?!

2. "Earthpark Executive Director David Oman said, "'We need to partner with one of these two communities to go to Vision Iowa.'"

[Please see revision of this section in Nicholas Johnson, "Correction Re: Governor Vilsack and Rain Forest," September 1, 2006.]

I would simply repeat what I've said before on this one -- "I know no reason to think that the Vision Iowa board, if it had the money, would give it to the rain forest" -- but for this comment from Bradley Franzwa:

"Vilsack was on the Iowa Press this week and was getting frustrated at the questions focusing on his presidential (non) campaign. He started listing other things he would rather discuss. Then he said,


"­What the heck is he going to do with this? Right now the fund only has $5 million in reserves. The rain forest is preparing their application for funding probably with signatures from leaders from two communities. Is Vilsack really going to gift the rain forest just before leaving office? Is there already an agenda made for the Vision Iowa Board Meeting in Clinton on September 13?"

Whatever the case may be, Oman clearly needs to clear a few more hurdles than to "partner with one of these two cities" to guarantee his rain forest will be getting any more money from Iowa's taxpayers.

3. "We're bringing Siemens along, other companies are coming along."

On October 30, 2004, an email was fired off to Coralville officials over Ted Townsend's signature saying, among other critical things, "GE, Ford, SGI, HP, Interface, USGBC, the US Department of Energy, the US Department of Education, CAA, and all the other world class entities WE are about to bring to your town, never heard of Coralville until WE introduced them to it. Frankly, none of them care a hoot about Coralville even now. They are deciding to come there because they believe in our project and IT’S potential to impact all humanity."

GE, Ford, HP, Siemens -- where are they?

"Companies [have been] coming along" now for some time -- but somehow they never quite arrive. Most recently it's Siemens; but there's no detail as to what Siemens is going to do for the rain forest -- certainly no cash figure.

One possibility that has been mentioned is that Siemens will display its wares inside the rain forest. If that's the kind of "corporate partnership" the rain forest promoters have in mind they're going to end up creating something that looks more like the exhibit hall at a convention than their promised educational venue.

Once again rain forest watchers are saying, "Show me the money!" Right now no known corporation has thrown any into the forest.

4. "Project leaders say they're still about a month away from making a final decision on a location."

Is this really about "a final decision on a location"? Has it ever been? What is this touring board going to find out during the next 30 days that couldn't have been learned during the last two years, or that they don't know now?

In case you weren't there to get a piece of the birthday cake, let me remind you that this project just celebrated its tenth anniversary. Ten years without raising a dime of money beyond that of the guy whose idea it was, and his friend Senator Chuck Grassley, whose generous gift of the federal taxpayers' money is now conditioned on an unmet $50 million match from elsewhere (and who, so far as is known, has yet to put a dime of his own personal fortune into the project).

Isn't what's "still about a month away" the long-postponed final decision as to whether there's enough cash on hand -- or prospects of getting it -- to match the $50 million matchable grant, and then to raise the additional $55 to $80 million to get the project built? And then whether the facility can produce a sufficient revenue stream to keep it open? (See Nicholas Johnson, "Oman: Taxpayers to Pay for Earthpark's Operation," August 27, 2006.)

"Oh, it's a long, long time" (from 1996 to 2006) "and the days dwindle down to a precious few" as we await the board's "September" decision.

Breaking silence is not the same as breaking ground.

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