WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky., July 8 (UPI) — A $100 million model of Noah’s Ark has opened as a tourist attraction in Williamstown, Ky.
But it is has sparked an unholy argument with opponents saying that taxpayers’ money should not have been spent to build it.
Claiming to be the largest timber frame structure in the world, it is located at Christian theme park, Ark Encounter, a for-profit enterprise founded by Australian Ken Ham, president of the Answers in Genesis ministry.
The ark is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high. Its three decks span more than 120,000 square feet.
It features displays of animals in cages as well as exhibits, based on the group’s theories on the world’s existence, namely that God created everything, including dinosaurs, about 6,000 years ago.
This is in stark contrast to scientists who say that dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years before man ever walked the Earth.
The attraction has been at the center of controversy since it was given a tax break in 2014 worth $18 million, which will allow its owners to recoup sales taxes if they meet attendance goals. Other incentives came in the form of highway improvements to handle the traffic and taxpayer-backed bonds.
When it was revealed that Answers in Genesis would only hire Christian staff members, the tax perk was taken away. But the ministry successfully sued and got back their multimillion-dollar incentive.
Employees at Ark Encounter must sign a statement of faith, attesting to the creationist vision and condemning homosexuality, same-sex marriage and premarital sex.
Opponents of the theme park said that such a deal it is a clear violation of separation of church and state.
“Basically, this boat is a church raising scientifically illiterate children and lying to them about science,” said Jim Helton, who lives about a half-hour from the ark.
The Rev. Bob Fox, head pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, Ky., said: “I have a great deal of difficulty when the state is asked to promote a religious position and through funding. So my concern is that when the state offers tax incentives to what is essentially a religious enterprise, they are promoting that religious group.”
The state of Kentucky, Grant County, and the city of Williamstown, have all helped launch the ark project, which sits alongside the park’s other attractions, including a petting zoo, zip lines, a 900-seat auditorium and a 1,500-seat restaurant.
Ark Encounter is also set to receive $18.25 million in sales tax rebates over 10 years, granted by the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism.
Theme park executives hope to attract 2 million visitors in its first year. The park has so far created 350 jobs, with claims by Answers In Genesis that it is worth $4 billion in tourism revenue to the area.
“People say all sorts of things, but the bottom line is we have to look at the law and what the law states and what the Constitution of America states, and this has nothing to do with the government supporting any religion,” Ham said.
“The government offers this tax incentive to the Bourbon Museum, the Speedway, and we have every right to partake in it, too. It’s a performance-based rebate on sales tax, it’s not the government giving you a grant.”