Government Spending

Save the (Des Moines) Rainforest!

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fake tree

A $48.3 million earmark for an artificial rainforest in a town outside of Des Moines has been axed, in a victory against pork so pathetically insignificant that it makes me want to weep. Naturally, the money was sent home by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.), who claimed to be taken by surprise by its imminent demise.

Grassley said he was disappointed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate included language pulling the grant, and didn't bother to tell him.

Executive director David Oman is incomprehensibly optimistic that the $150 million project will continue despite a $50 million shortfall before the congressional money was pulled. But then, incomprehensible optimism seems to be central to the whole affair: The park is projected to attract 800,000 visitor to the area. But Oman is also bitter.

Oman said it's ironic that Congress approved a range of local projects, but not an Iowa development with a broader scope.

"This is a national project in Iowa," Oman said. "It is not a local project. To see a lot of new earmarks for swimming pools and parking lots and stoplights while Iowa appears to be losing funds for a national resource is difficult to understand."

I suppose he's almost-kinda-sorta-nearly right about this. Funding swimming pools in, say, Muskogee from the national treasury is the height of absurdity in its own small way. But a plastic rainforest in Des Moines is $50 million worth of absurdity.

For those in fly-over country who absolutely must have a rainforest experience which they can get to in the family Winnebago, there's always Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, a mere 2 hours and 55 minutes away as the 'bago flies, which has an indoor rainforest of its own.

Via Mark Lambert

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  1. Is there some basis for the reference to pools in Muskogee? This is, of course, Sen. Tom Coburn’s hometown, and would seem to be a bigger earmark story than a pool in, say, Paducah.

  2. Oh, and eff the elitist reason writers who refer to the Midwest as “flyover country.” I happen to think Boston is flyover country.

  3. And why not some mountains for Florida? The few they have (Thunder, Splash and Space, as examples) you have to pay to see. And, at times are deadly.

  4. Look no offense to Iowans, but I hate your damn state for its utter blandness and its eagerness to lap up government money for dumb shit like this and corn/ethanol subsidies.

  5. Pella is about 50 miles from Des Moines.

  6. Shut the fuck up, Donny!

  7. The attraction was projected to draw 800,000 visitors a year.

    Amtrak was projected to be profitable a decade or two ago. My rule of thumb on these sorts of projections is divide by two. Now you have an optimistic projection.

  8. TDR: Is that during your direct flight from Gary to London?

  9. Look no offense to Iowans, but I hate your damn state for its utter blandness and its eagerness to lap up government money for dumb shit like this and corn/ethanol subsidies.

    Iowa is corn and pigs. Pigs and corn. No offense intended either.

  10. If you can give me a petition of 800,000 who want to visit a plastic rain forest, I’ll pay for it myself…

  11. Iowa is corn and pigs . . .

    Don’t forget the soybeans.

  12. Dear Iowa-

    DIAF

    Hugs and kisses,
    mediageek

  13. Iowa. Plastic Rainforest.

    Gosh, I wonder why they couldn’t get private investors in on this? It seems to be such a natural fit.

  14. Pella? Uh-oh. I just mailed my letters to independent voters in Pella asking them to consider caucusing with the GOP and voting for RP in the Iowa caucus. Let’s hope they are as sick of this nonsense as H&R posters are.

  15. Sounds like Sen. Charles Grassley needs a little Getting Gay with Kids.

    (Time was we could count on the staff to make the obvious South Park references, but things haven’t been the same since Matt Welck took over! For a magazine called Reason… grumble grumble!)

  16. Welch, goddammit! Makes me so mad I can’t type straight!

  17. Lamar | December 20, 2007, 12:32pm | #

    TDR: Is that during your direct flight from Gary to London?

    Lamar — Yes, yes it is. You must have also taken that route in order to be aware of its existence. 🙂

  18. I listened to Grassley on an NPR interview last week and the man seems utterly retarded. And I’m being charitable here. His arguments wouldn’t convince an eight-year-old, but they seem to convince the voters and his fellow Senators. Take that for what it is.

  19. Aw, c’mon, no mention of Gary being in Indiana?

  20. There’s a Rain Forest Cafe in Overland Park, KS and three near Chicago – only a days drive from anywhere in IA. Or you can fly to WA and go to the Ho Nat’l Rain Forest.

    Otherwise, get your pork by selling more pork sausage.

  21. Of course it’s in Indiana… but since ALL of the Midwest is treated as “flyover country”, I didn’t think it mattered.

    I actually live in Oklahoma, which I don’t think I’ve ever heard referred to as anything BUT “flyover country” (even by those who live here). So forgive me if I’m touchy about the phrase.

  22. TDR, old joke,

    Why is it always windy in Oklahoma? Cuz Kansas sucks and Texas blows.

  23. Des Moines is not so bad, especially in the caucus season. I just recently spent a year living there and I quite liked it. But then again, I grew up in Peoria, so my expectations about midwestern blandness may differ from yours. 😉

    Iowans seem really, really proud of their state. I bought a snow shovel at the hardware store and the clerk proudly informed me that it was made in Iowa. I can’t imagine giving a crap about that. There is a lot of quasi-collectivist “we Iowans” talk in the papers, etc. I found it surprising because nobody gives a shit about Illinois, least of all IL natives like me.

  24. Why is it always windy in Oklahoma? Cuz Kansas sucks and Texas blows.

    Wait, there are people in these states?

    Just kidding. I personally detest such attitudes, as they are often just pathetic ego-boosters: “huh huh I’m better than those yokels because I live on the coast”.

    And I’m from Connecticut, with 7 years in Manhattan.

  25. ed,

    The New Republic had a piece on Charles Grassley, and the man really does seem to have a child-like development level. Asking his staffer for permission to do things, that sort of thing.

    Anyway, on pork, it’s a nice story when this project gets cut or a bad story when some other project gets funded, but I’d like to a see an overview piece about overall spending and earmarking. It was a big story before that last elections about how the Democrats were going to reform the process and reduce earmarks, and there were some pretty confident opinions expressed about whether they would actually follow through. It might be informative to some people to see whether they were right or wrong.

  26. nathan:

    Iowans have an over-inflated sense of self-worth because of that damn caucus. They think they are the quintessential middle-Americans and which somehow makes them special.

    Hint to Iowans: Most pol’s try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Now, take a wild guess why they hold their caucus in your state.

  27. You know what’s weird? There’s a real rain forest on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. That’s right, across Elliot Bay from Seattle. Yes, I know it’s moist in the Northwest when it’s not actually rainy, but “rain forest” and ‘Washington State” were an unexpected combo for me.

  28. Anyone who wants to go to a bitchin’ private sector rainforest can go to Nashville’s “Opryland” resort/convention center. I know it’s not the real thing, but, honestly, I didn’t miss the leeches one damn bit!

  29. First and foremost, it is not a “plastic rain forest”. The word plastic does not even appear in the linked article from the Des Moines Register.

    The project was to build a “bio-dome” of sorts and grow a real tropical rain forest inside the dome. It was proposed primarily as an educational facility that was expected to draw school groups as well as the general population.

    It was a dumb idea, and it never had a chance to go forward. Make as much fun of the idea as you like, but have the intellectual integrity to critize the actual project and not Katherine’s misrepresentation.

    As for all of you that are trashing Iowa, I greatly anticipate the day when Global Warming puts both pretensious coasts under hundreds of feet of salt water.

  30. Episiarch,

    Just a joke. Proud alum (Go Pokes) with time in all 3 states. I too am not a fan of tribalism.

  31. Lemme check, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, California, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico all have real rainforests. Golly gee, Senator Grassley, maybe I don’t want to pay so Iowa can have a fake one.

  32. As for all of you that are trashing Iowa, I greatly anticipate the day when Global Warming puts both pretensious coasts under hundreds of feet of salt water.

    Don’t get your panties in a bunch, iowan. 😉
    Fortunately I’m from Detroit. Nobody dares make fun of us.

  33. Fortunately I’m from Detroit. Nobody dares make fun of us.

    I certainly wouldn’t.

  34. When I lived in Minnesota, I noticed that the Minnesotans spent an inordinate amount of time mocking Iowans. I never understood that, especially considering how funny natives of Minnesota are. They also, to a less degree, mocked North Dakota.

  35. Fortunately I’m from Detroit. Nobody dares make fun of us.

    The Red Wings are the Yankees of hockey, and therefore suck…

  36. Ron Paul puts earmarks into spending bills to support his district then votes against the bill.

    The federal government shouldn’t be involved in these kinds of projects. But as long as it is, Iowans should try to get their cut.

    The project wasn’t as dumb as the summary above indicates, and it certainly isn’t as dumb as Ted’s bridge to nowhere.

    I’m glad it’s dead.

  37. The Red Wings are the Yankees of hockey, and therefore suck…

    The Lions are the Cubs of football. Be merciful.

  38. The Lions are the Cubs of football. Be merciful.

    Fair enough.

    First and foremost, it is not a “plastic rain forest”.

    Duh-oh! Sorry about that one. I still don’t want to pay for your fucking forest, though…

  39. You know what Florida is missing? A mountain range, right down the middle. Just like the Apennines in Italy. I wonder how much that would cost?

  40. iowan:

    Trash-talking other states is probably the oldest American past time 😉

  41. You know what Florida is missing? A mountain range, right down the middle. Just like the Apennines in Italy. I wonder how much that would cost?

    Why not throw a boreal-style forest while we’re at it. There’s no good camping space down here anyway…

  42. I still don’t want to pay for your fucking forest, though…

    Neither do I.

    Trash-talking other states is probably the oldest American past time . .

    Was I too subtle for you . . .

  43. Katherine’s misrepresentation.

    Sigh. Latest misrepresentation…

  44. There’s no good camping space down here anyway…

    It’s not the lack of space so much as it’s too friggin’ hot most of the time, and when it isn’t there is an assortment of reptiles who’ll happily finish you off. Screw that.

  45. Grassley said he was disappointed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate included language pulling the grant, and didn’t bother to tell him. Grassley arranged the grant in 2003, and two years later, under heavy pressure from Earthpark critics who saw the project as an example of pork-barrel politics, pushed legislation to require the matching grant.

    As far as I know, this was not an “earmark”. The $50M was a grant based on a federal matching funds program (to go with the $50M in private funding). The project was short an additional $50M in private funding and after about 4 or 5 years of work was going nowhere.

    This was not something that Chuckles the Clown inserted at the last moment. The funding has been in place for 4 years. Most likely the $50M has been redirected to somebody else’s pet project as a true earmark that hasn’t had 4 years of scrutiny.

    So we’re all winners today, woo hoo.

  46. i know this is uncool, but the idea of an artificial rain forest in the middle of the country is kinda neat.

  47. i know this is uncool, but the idea of an artificial rain forest in the middle of the country is kinda neat.

    If this had been a 100% privately funded adventure, I would have been cheering them on since day one. As a federally funded boondoogle, it was deeply disappointing. But as a matching funds project with 2/3rds private and 1/3rd public funding, it was far from being the most stupid way congress wastes our money.

  48. Taktix?,

    Well, I was thinking about replacing southern Georgia with the equivalent of the Alps. Given the climate changes that would certainly bring, maybe somewhere in the Panhandle we could plant some nice spruce trees?

    ed,

    Indeed, it does get hot here. With the Florida “Apennines”, which we’ll call the “Disnenines”, you can always take a short trip into the mountains to get a break from the heat. Orlando will be the new Aspen ?

  49. Orlando will be the new Aspen

    I could only imagine what a clusterfuck of humanity this would be…

  50. incomprehensible optimism

    This describes every bad corporate executive I’ve met or worked with who drove his company into the ground in eighteen months, then went on to “spend more time with family and pursue other opportunities” with his six figure golden parachute.

  51. i know this is uncool, but the idea of an artificial rain forest in the middle of the country is kinda neat.

    It is cool, dhex, will that be cash or charge?

  52. You mean seven or eight-figure golden parachute. Sometimes more.

  53. You mean seven or eight-figure golden parachute. Sometimes more.

    I’ve never worked for any corporations that big, thank god.

    Given that six figures is considerably more than I make, that’s all it takes to make me ill.

  54. I don’t have a parachute. However, I am permitted to flap my arms very rapidly and pray for the best if things go awry around here.

  55. Pro Libertate

    So the Lake Wales ridge isn’t high enough for you, eh?

    Then there’s that mountain of garbage that I see from the Turnpike every time I go to Miami. I think it might be the highest hill in Florida by now.

  56. Isaac,

    No, that’s not good enough. Britton Hill is the highest elevation in the state, at 345 feet, but that’s not good enough, either. I’d say 10,000 feet would be optimal, but if that’s too much trouble, anything over 4,000 feet will do.

  57. Then there’s that mountain of garbage that I see from the Turnpike every time I go to Miami. I think it might be the highest hill in Florida by now

    That won’t work. They already have the mutant-redneck-south-floridian factory occupying that space…

  58. It is cool, dhex, will that be cash or charge?

    money order!

    having seen some of the newer parts of the bronx zoo, where they did a good job of “you are there” type environmental faking, i do wonder if a larger scale rainforest disney type joint would be viable either technologically or commercially.

  59. that mountain of garbage that I see from the Turnpike every time I go to Miami

    Ah, Garbage Mountain. I used to work about a mile from its majestic visage. Halfway between that and the women’s prison. Good times.

  60. Time was we could count on the staff to make the obvious South Park references, but things haven’t been the same since Matt Welck took over!

    Isn’t Gillespie now in charge of all things reason online? It’s he that should be issuing warnings to the staff about not meeting their South Park reference quotas.

  61. Orlando will be the new Aspen

    I seriously can’t even fathom the impact of this and I’ve been trying to for 10 minutes now.

  62. Bingo,

    Skiing Mickey? Mr. Toad’s Wild Ski? Oh, right, Mr. Toad is persona non grata in Kissimmee.

  63. Mr. Toad is persona non grata in Kissimmee

    I got lost in Kissimmee once. I hear that’s not easy. All Hail The Mouse!

  64. Just include the Rain Forest in the same funding package with a new stadium for Iowa State U. Ames isn’t too far from Des Moises and the taxpayers of Iowa could vote and pass the referendum.

    I’m sure glad a lot of folks fly over my house, we have enough nut cases of our own here.

  65. Sometimes they crash. Just sayin’.

  66. First, I’m an Iowan an I didn’t take Katherine’s “fly by country” comment to be anything more than a tongue-in-cheek reference, since there are people that consider it such.

    Second, yes, it’s not a “plastic rainforest” per se (come on, folks, she was using that phrase to be humorous) it would be real plants growing in a big plastic dome, with a good share of plastic on the inside as well. Really, “plastic rainforest” isn’t all that off, even if she weren’t using the phrase just to be funny.

    Third, can’t agree more that Iowa has a history of suckling at the federal dollar teat (ask any farmer about his/her subsidies and price supports, or checks for not growing crops on part of their land), but to call Iowa “bland” is just ill-informed, undoubtedly stated by someone who has never set foot in the place. Iowa has its issues, but “bland” isn’t one of them. Read Bill Bryson’s memoir, LIFE & TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID and tell me Iowa is bland.

    Fourth, I find the state-bashing stuff just really stupid and immature. Grow up. Though, whoever noted that state bashing was probably the oldest American pasttime was right on target! (Actually, sex was the first passtime, state bashing the second).

    Fifth, the rainforest is a really, really stupid idea, even with private money, especially with public money, doubly especially with federal money. As Katherine noted, you can drive about 2 hours from Des Moines to get to Omaha’s indoor rainforest, with lots of other attractions in that zoo. People will not travel to Pella, Iowa to see such a thing, not when the Omaha Zoo offers a similar product and much, much more. Pella (settled by Dutch immigrants) does, however, have the best pastries on the face of the planet in Jaarsma’s Bakery.

    Sixth, okay, I don’t agree with Chuck Grassley on much, and I’m really not a fan of his beliefs and votes, but don’t let his hick accent fool you. The guy is just a disseration away from a Ph.D., and he is a political force of nature. Astute as hell. He does sound like an idiot sometimes, but that’s just because of the weird way he talks. MOST (not all) Iowans don’t talk like that.

    Seventh, sure the Iowa Caucuses are a dumb way to start the presidential campaign; so is any other way you can think of. It’s just one dumb choice over the others. At least the candidates actually meet and talk to real human beings here and don’t just talk to huge groups and tv cameras. It’s a good experience for them to have to go through, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be Iowa where they do it. Should be some other small state, though.

    That is all.

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