Leaky Boat: Kentucky Officials Labor To Keep Struggling ‘Ark Park’ From Sinking

It seems Kentucky lawmakers are bound and determined to do everything they can to stop from folding what surely looks like a losing hand.

Kentucky lawmakers seem to be doing all they can to plug holes in the perpetually leaky “Ark Park.”

We haven’t heard a whole lot lately about Ark Encounter, a proposed Christian fundamentalist theme park that’s built around a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark. That’s because the project has sailed into a sea of trouble.

The Ark Park is spearheaded by Answers in Geneses (AiG), a fundamentalist ministry that seeks to promote creationism and debunk evolution. AiG owns Kentucky’s perpetually embarrassing Creation Museum, an attraction where kids can be photographed sitting in a saddle atop a replica triceratops. (Just like the cave people did – or not)  

Ark Encounter has faced one problem after another. According to multiple reports in LEO Weekly (a Louisville publication), AiG said in January 2011 that ground would be broken on the project that spring. Then in May of that year, AiG said groundbreaking would be over the summer. In June, AiG said construction would begin in August. By early August AiG still had not broken ground but promised that it would happen “in the next few months.”

Then in late August 2011, AiG bumped the timetable way back, saying groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2012.

Last we heard, AiG President Ken Ham said he hopes the Ark Park will open in 2016.

In the meantime, AiG continues to take donations even though it is well short of the total it needs to build its theme park. According to LEO Weekly, the project had received just $4.3 million of the $24.5 million sought as of late 2011.

So what are the lawmakers who have backed this loony scheme going to do now? It seems they are bound and determined to do everything they can to stop from folding what surely looks like a losing hand.

The latest ploy comes courtesy of the city of Williamstown, which is not far from Cincinnati. The town already gave the overtly religious park a 75 percent property tax break, and Bloomberg News reported this week that the city plans to sell $62 million in municipal bonds in December for AiG affiliates. This means the city is actively taking on quite a bit of debt for the sole purpose of funding the Ark Park.

Anyone “generous” enough to buy $100,000 worth of these bonds will receive a lifetime pass to Ark Encounter for his or her family, Bloomberg said.

But the bond offering is far from the only government-backed bailout measure intended to get Ark Encounter up and running.

Kentucky has already committed more than $40 million in tax incentives to this project. The state allocated this support even though the park is the brainchild of a prominent fundamentalist Christian ministry that believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and that unicorns once existed – ideas utterly rejected by mainstream science.

Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has backed this project under the guise that it will create jobs. A park like this might create some low-wage, part-time, seasonal work – but those types of jobs are hardly worth a $40 million incentive package.

The Kentucky legislature also planned to spend $2 million on a road project in a rural area, seemingly for the sole benefit of the proposed Ark Park.

Despite all the problems the Ark Park has thus far brought to Kentucky, Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner told Bloomberg he has “a lot of faith” in AiG’s attendance projections for the park.

Skinner is going to need that faith, because increasingly it looks like Ark Encounter will never open. If it ever does, it ought to be subsidized by private investors and true believers, not indirectly by the people of Kentucky.

It seems Kentucky has wasted its money on a “job-creating” venture that will never bear any fruit. Misguided legislators need to face up to an unpleasant truth: This ark is on a cruise to nowhere. It’s time to cut it loose.