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Creation Museum founder: Bill Nye debate emboldened supporters to get ark project funded

FILE - In this May 24, 2007 file photo, Ken Ham, founder of the nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis, poses with one of his favorite animatronic dinosaurs during a tour of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Ham, who recently debated evolution with TV's

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FILE - In this May 24, 2007 file photo, Ken Ham, founder of the nonprofit ministry Answers in Genesis, poses with one of his favorite animatronic dinosaurs during a tour of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. Ham, who recently debated evolution with TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye, says fundraising after the widely watched event helped to revive stalled plans to build a 510-foot replica of Noah's Ark. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A Christian ministry's long-stalled plans to build Noah's Ark in the hills of Kentucky have been revived.

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham announced Thursday that a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the Ark Encounter project, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.

Ham said a high-profile evolution debate he had with "Science Guy" Bill Nye on Feb. 4 helped boost support for the project.

Nye said he was "heartbroken and sickened for the Commonwealth of Kentucky" after learning that the project would move forward. He said the ark would eventually draw more attention to the beliefs of Ham's ministry, which preaches that the Bible's creation story is a true account, and as a result, "voters and taxpayers in Kentucky will eventually see that this is not in their best interest."

Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry and the Creation Museum enjoyed an avalanche of news media attention during the debate, which focused on science and the Bible's explanations of the origins of the universe.

Answers in Genesis unveiled the proposal in 2010 for a $150 million theme park that would include the ark. But private donations to the project did not keep pace with the construction timeline, forcing its backers to delay the ark's construction and divide the park development into phases. The bonds were offered last year by the city of Williamstown, site of the planned ark about 40 miles south of Cincinnati.

Ham said the bond issue faced many obstacles, including what he called misleading news media reports and attempts by opponents to disrupt the bond offering.

Ham would not disclose the total amount of bond funds raised because of underwriter restrictions. But a December bond document describing the project listed the amount at $62 million. Mark Looy, a vice-president with Answers in Genesis, said the figure is less than $62 million, and that the minimum funding requirement was achieved.

Nye brushed off a question about whether he might be criticized for taking part in a debate that boosted fundraising for the ark.

"Me? I've always been criticized," he said.

The bonds are to be repaid through revenue from the park, and the city is not liable for the money, according to bond documents.

The wooden ark would have old-world details, such as wooden pegs instead of nails, straight-sawed timbers and plenty of animals — some alive, some robotic.

The Creation Museum opened in 2007 and has been criticized by scientists as an affront to evolution science. Ham said Thursday that 2 million visitors have entered the museum since it opened.

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