Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rain Forest: "Sweet 16"?

Next Monday's regular weekly Monday update on the Iowa rain forest project ( will expand on the current state of the project -- including Bradley Franzwa's blockbuster charges. Meanwhile, here is one observation.

1. The basic problems with the project have been with it for 10 years. For a summary take a look at Nicholas Johnson, "Time to Learn From What Works," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 20, 2006. (Of the dozens of things I've written on the subject that's as good a brief example as any.) The Web site, linked above, is as thorough a collection of the hundreds of documents supporting these assertions as I know of anywhere on the Web. I won't repeat all of that here.

2. Today's stories (see "Rain Forest: Mid-Week Update," July 26) are illustrative.

3. "Sweet Sixteen." Jeffrey Patch writes, "At the beginning of this year, 16 communities submitted proposals."

David Oman is trying to turn Iowans' sensible disinterest in this project into his own form of a suspenseful "March Madness" -- except for the fact it's taking him 120 months rather than one. "There were 16, next 8, then 4, finally 2 . . . 'and the winner is' . . .." So far as I know, there never were "16." I'd be stunned if Oman could produce anything fairly called a "proposal" from 16 communities -- or even name 16 communities "expressing interest." He consistently refused to reveal the names of more than four genuine contenders.

(Of the six identified, Dubuque made clear from the outset it had its own plans regarding its nationally recognized Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium -- which is undergoing more expansion plans at the moment, and is doing very nicely thank you. If Oman could find a place for his project within their plans, fine; otherwise forget it. It was forgotten. Rain forest promoters essentially kicked Coralville in the face before leaving town, after Coralville had put months of effort and millions of dolars into development plans that were to include the rain forest. So, while it may have been a theoretical possible one of six, both sides knew that was highly unlikely.)

Of the four, neither Grinnell nor Tiffin were rejected by the rain forest board; they pulled themselves out of contention. Doubts about the project were expressed locally in both communities. The project's continued delays were complicating other local plans. And the $25 million, demanded of the local communities by the project, were not forthcoming.

So this "selection" of a "final two" has not quite been the case of 16 eager, hopeful communities being narrowed down through a process of visitation and evaluation by the board that the media buys into repeating.

How this kind of thing happens is itself an interesting subject for inquiry in a media class.

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