Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rain Forest's Big News: "Nothing to Announce"

The Press-Citizen's page one, column one, top of the page -- apparently reserved for promotion of the Riverside Casino and Earthpark (see yesterday's Nicholas Johnson, "Media on Casino's Leno," September 18, 2006) -- this morning (September 19) contains the latest big announcement from the rain forest project (Earthpark -- or, as State29 spells it, "Earthpork").

[Revision: After posting this, discovered
State29 also commented on the Press-Citizen's story this morning; see, State 29, "Hook, Line, and Sucker," September 19, 2006.]

It would have to be a big announcement to receive such prominent placement, right?

And what is the big news, the story that's more important than anything else going on in the world, U.S., Iowa, or Iowa City?

It is that the project has nothing to announce.

Kathryn Fiegen, "Time ticks for site decision; Earthpark board to meet Sept. 28," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 19, 2006, p. 1A.

"Time ticks," indeed. It has been ticking for 10 years. And the elephant in this rain forest is that the project has banked not one dime during that time beyond the initial pledge of project founder Ted Townsend.

In fact, it's going backwards on fundraising. A year ago, in Coralville, it could claim $90 million toward its one-time $300 million project (subsequently reduced to $225 million, then $180, and now $155 million). When the petulance of the project's leadership led to a falling out with Coralville's leaders, and it left town, it also left the $50 million federal earmark behind.

A federal grant for a "rain forest in Coralville, Iowa" left Senator Grassley with the need to redefine "Coralville" as "an area of 56,000 square miles, formerly known as 'the State of Iowa.'" That permitted David Oman to drive up and down Interstate 80 looking for a site. But with that definition, to keep the project alive, went a condition that the $50 million from grateful taxpayers be matched with $50 million from private sources -- sources so far proving to be much less grateful.

The board's final site selection -- promised for January of 2006, then February, March, April, May, June, July, August, and now September -- will, presumably, occur someday and on that day be proclaimed to be "on schedule." But it strikes me a little misleading not to mention that history.

Even more misleading is the suggestion that it makes any difference whether the project's board picks a site or not.

It's like making a big deal out of which city a major U.S. airline is going to choose as the place where it will declare bankruptcy.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we had an indoor rain forest," some folks say. "Maybe," I reply. "And it would also be nice if I had a $1.5 million house." But since they don't have the money to build -- let alone operate -- their rain forest, and I don't have the money for even a down payment on my $1.5 million house, I don't think it really makes much difference -- and it's certainly not "news" worthy of page one -- where either of us would build if we did have the money.

There is something called "the big lie" technique. Repeat a falsehood enough times, over and over, and it morphs into truth.

(The U.S. WWII Office of Strategic Services Report described "the big lie technique" used by Hitler as follows: "people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it." "Big Lie," Wikipedia, OSS Report, p51.)

So it is with the media's repetition of the project's assertion -- without any effort to investigate the details -- that "Both [Riverside and Pella] have met or exceeded the $25 million requirement for state funding." It is repeated once again in this morning's Press-Citizen story. The numbers simply don't add up -- even if you treat "a million a year for ten years" as the equivalent of $10 million in the bank, today; even if you're willing to consider "debt" the equivalent of private matching contributions; etc. (For repeated and detailed evaluations of the numbers over the years, see the material linked from and contained within my Iowa Child/Environmental Project/Earthpark/Iowa Rain Forest Web site.)

The story also continues the media's habit of repeating any assertion from the rain forest's promoters -- assertions that are obviously nothing more than hopes based on best case scenarios -- as if they were facts. And so this story concludes with:

"In addition to the $25 million in local funding, the project would be supported by a $50 million Department of Energy grant secured by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, $15 million to $20 million in state funding and the rest from debt financing. The park is expected to open during the 2009-2010 school year." (emphasis supplied)

Go through those two sentences word at a time. There is no $25 million in local funding. There is no $50 million "grant" -- it must be matched, and there is currently no basis for thinking it can be. The notion that there will be $15-$20 million in state funding has been ridiculed. (See yesterday's update to the rain forest Web site, linked above.) As for "debt financing," where is it written that debt will satisfy the terms of the matching grant? If (big if) they can get $25 million in local money, and if they can borrow $25 million (and that's ruled to be within the conditions of the matching grant), that will give them $100 million ($25 million plus $25 million triggers the additional $50 million) -- leaving an awful lot of "the rest" to be covered with "debt financing." Even if a $155 million project is big enough to draw visitors (and the project's own consultants say it's not), that would mean $80 million in debt ($55 million plus $25 million) -- for a project that has little prospect of ever being able to sustain itself. Who's going to loan them that money?

(As for self-sustaining, as
State29 has noted, "It's a floor wax, it's a desert topping, it's whatever they want it to be." Over the years it's been promoted as a K-5 school, teacher training facility, world class research lab, aquarium, tourist attraction, etc. At some point they're going to have to decide what's going to happen inside this structure. But there's no more reason to believe it could sustain itself with research grants or funding from Iowa's school districts than it could from tourists' dollars.)

And "expected to open"? Ah, but by now presumably you get the point.

Aside from all this, it was a really exciting bit of news this morning.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ..

No comments: