Creation Museum founder Ken Ham announced Thursday that enough money had been raised to begin construction of a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark as part of a multimillion-dollar Ark Encounter project.
The Ark Encounter will sit on 800 acres of land in Williamstown, Ky., and will be developed “in phases over many years,” according to a press release from Ham’s Answers in Genesis organization. The first phase alone will cost an estimated $73 million.
The project had stalled over funding. But according to Answers in Genesis, it received the needed boost after Ham engaged in a widely viewed television debate on creationism and evolution with Bill Nye “The Science Guy.”
In addition to more than $14.4 million in private donations, a municipal bond offering by the city of Williamstown has cleared the way to start construction in May.
“God has burdened AiG to rebuild a full-size Noah’s Ark — as a sign to the world that God’s Word is true, and as a reminder that all men are sinners, and we all need to go through the ‘door’ to be saved,” Ham wrote in August 2013.
But perhaps God’s message could be spread by means other than building a really big boat. Here are five ways Ham’s $73 million might have otherwise served the people of Kentucky:
1. Feed hungry children.
According to Map the Meal Gap 2013, one in four children in Kentucky do not know how they will receive their next meal.
In 2012, the poverty rate in Kentucky jumped to 19.4 percent, or 823,000 people, making it the fifth poorest state in the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Child poverty in particular increased from 23.5 percent in 2008 to 26.5 percent in 2012. And 35,891 public school students in Kentucky were homeless during the 2011-12 school year, Northern Kentucky News reported in March 2013.
2. Donate to cancer research, prevention or patient support.
Kentucky has the highest cancer death rate in the country — 227 per 100,000 people. It also has the highest rate of tobacco smokers at 25.6 percent.
3. Invest in broke schools.
Years of education cuts have made Kentucky the 14th worst state in school funding, according to a September 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The state spends less per child in inflation-adjusted dollars than it did before the 2008 recession.
4. Save abused animals.
Last year, for the seventh consecutive year, Kentucky was ranked the worst state for animal protection laws. The state is in dire need of stricter animal abuse laws and more funding for food, medicine and housing for severely abused and abandoned animals. Even veterinarians in Kentucky are prohibited from reporting suspected animal cruelty.
5. Combat the crippling heroin problem.
Heroin is a burgeoning medical, legal and fiscal issue for Kentucky, with statewide overdose deaths increasing by 550 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to a November 2013 study by Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response. In 2012, heroin cases made up nearly 20 percent of all drug overdose cases before the Kentucky Medical Examiner — a 3.22 percent increase from the previous year.
The state lacks adequate treatment resources, addiction and mental health specialists, and law enforcement funding, especially in the northern region. Northern Kentucky’s substance abuse funding from state and federal sources for 2013 was just under $2.4 million, roughly $5 per capita below the state average.