Rebuffed twice in as many years by the state Legislature, Davis County officials are taking a new tack on getting the causeway to Antelope Island State Park rebuilt.
If the state will front the money, the county will oversee the causeway's construction and operation. And, the county officials believe a usable causeway can be built for a little less than $5 million, not the $15 million to $18 million state engineers estimate.County commissioners met recently with Gov. Norm Bangerter and the county's legislators, pitching the new proposal. While interested, the governor made no commitment, referring the matter to state engineers for more study.
To cut the cost of rebuilding the causeway, which was washed out by the rising lake in 1983, the commissioners are proposing building it up to a level of 4,208 feet instead of the 4,217 feet recommended by UDOT engineers.
The pumps on the lake's west edge are designed to keep the lake below 4,206 feet. The commissioners also believe the lake's rise in 1983-84 was an anomaly, a historic fluke that may not happen again for a century, if ever.
The county is offering to build a two-lane causeway with a bridge over an equalization gap in the dike. Entrance fee to the park was $3 when it closed, which would be boosted to $5 to operate the cause-way.
"The governor was non-committal, but I think we got his attention with our proposal," said Commissioner J. Dell Holbrook.
"Their engineers said their studies show it can't be done for that amount of money, but we have a couple of studies that show it can be. We transmitted those to UDOT, and they're reviewing them now," said Hol-brook.
The county, through its legislative delegation, has pushed hard for the past two years for state funds to rebuild the causeway. But in last-minute politicking, the funds have been cut by lawmakers in favor of other projects.
The county this year produced a full-color brochure on the economic impact of the park that it distributed to lawmakers to plead its case.
According to the brochure, attendance at the park averaged 427,000 visitors annually in its last four full years of operation. Breaking that down into resident and non-resident visitors, the county estimates the park has contributed $87 million to the state's economy, a figure that will increase to $26 million a year when the visitor total climbs to 1 million annually.
The state has already invested $12.5 million in the park, an investment county officials say is now sitting idle. According to their estimates, the state has lost $82 million since the park was closed seven years ago.
"The public has been robbed of an important natural resource," the county's study concludes. "Antelope Island State Park is a natural platform for public education and interaction with a variety of environmental wonders: the Great Salt Lake, ancient Lake Bonneville, the Great Basin, unique ecosystems, and one of the largest free-roaming buffalo herds in the country."