A $14 million proposal to rebuild the causeway to Antelope Island and begin refurbishing the state park facilities on the island was endorsed unanimously Friday by the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council.
A bill to appropriate the funds is being drawn up and will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, according to Rick Mayfield, director of economic development for Davis County.The council was created by the Legislature to advise the state lands and forestry division on issues affecting the Great Salt Lake. It is composed of representatives from state agencies and the counties that border the lake.
Engineers estimate rebuilding the causeway to an elevation of between 4,212 feet and 4,217 feet will cost $14 million, Mayfield told the council. The first phase of rebuilding damaged facilities on the island will cost $2.2 million.
The causeway proposal appeared to have enough support for passage in the last session of the Legislature but died by a single vote in the session's frantic final hours.
Mayfield said the bill that will be introduced by Rep. Nancy Lyon, R-Bountiful, will take $5 million for the construction from the state's surplus and the remainder from bonding for Utah Department of Transportation projects.
No stand was taken on a proposal to charge a toll on the causeway, with the fees dedicated to paying for the construction.
Mayfield said he looked at financing and usage figures and believes a fee high enough to repay the construction bonds would discourage users. Other state park projects are paid for out of the general fund, and Mayfield said the Antelope Island park should be treated the same.
Mayor DeLore Thurgood of Syracuse, where the causeway connects to the shore, has been a booster of the reconstruction for several years. It will enhance tourism for the entire state, Thurgood told the council.
Antelope Island Park Superintendent Mitch Larsson said the park drew 450,000 visitors in the last full year of its operation before the rising Great Salt Lake destroyed the causeway.
Since the first 2,000 acres at the island's northern tip was acquired as a state park in 1969 through acquisition of the island's entire 25,000 acres in 1981, it has drawn more than 4 million visitors, Larsson said.
Larsson said the island's buffalo herd is responding to management, and plans are being formulated to reintroduce an antelope herd and bighorn sheep.
"But besides the wildlife, you have the geology, history, archaeology and the other factors that attract visitors," Larsson told the council.
Thurgood said the causeway's reconstruction will have to be sold to the Legislature as a project that will benefit the whole state, not just Davis County or his own city.
The Great Salt Lake is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, featured in geography texts around the world, Thurgood said, and Antelope Island is one of the best ways for visitors to get close to the lake.
"We need to bring them (tourists) in here, entertain them out there on the island, and let them leave their dollars here. We don't have to build any infrastructure for them, we don't have to educate their children.
"Let them spend their money here, then they go home," Thurgood said. "It sounds mercenary, but that's the nature of the tourism game."