For more than five years, thousands of tourists have been disappointed after traveling to Utah to see the Great Salt Lake, state parks officials say.
Before 1983, the lake offered two main tourist attractions - Antelope Island and Saltair. Since then, Saltair, a resort, and the road to the island have been submerged by the swollen lake.Saltair is slowly drying out, but Antelope Island remains isolated, and some officials believe the island's ecology is endangered and the state is losing money.
Mitch Larsson, superintendent of Antelope Island State Park, said he and other state officials are concerned about protecting a historical ranch house on the island as well as other artifacts from vandals. His worries would be eased if the road were rebuilt.
"We would have control if the island was opened up," he said. "We would have rangers there."
Others, such as state Rep. Scott Holt, R-Syracuse, believe the state is losing millions of tourist dollars every year the road remains submerged.
"Before the floods, Antelope Island was the No. 1 park in the state to visit," Holt said. "It was the second most popular tourist attraction next to Temple Square."
Holt believes more than 500,000 people would visit the island if the road were rebuilt. Since 1983, more than 100,000 people each year have visited the parking area near the old road, he estimates.
Holt is trying to persuade fellow lawmakers to appropriate $3.9 million this year toward reconstruction. The project would cost up to $10 million more, but Holt wants to raise that money through a bond. He wants to repay the bond by charging drivers between $4 and $7 per car to go across the road.
His idea has been filed with the Legislature as HB230. After passing through the House Transportation Committee last week, the bill now rests in the House Rules Committee until Holt can muster enough support to get it out.
He may not have an easy time of it. The Legislature, toying with various tax-cut proposals and spending priorities, may not be in the mood for an additional expense.
Holt was scheduled to join officials from Weber and Davis counties Wednesday to meet with and lobby Gov. Norm Bangerter. But the governor, in a meeting with reporters last week, said he would prefer to wait a few years before rebuilding the road.
"I'd like to see which direction the lake is going to go," Bangerter said, noting he worries about the lake swallowing the road as soon as it is rebuilt.
Others have similar concerns about the lake. Rep. Beverly White, D-Tooele, said in a caucus Tuesday she would prefer that the state build a bridge to the island.
Holt said his bill calls for the road to be built six feet higher than it was before the floods. He notes the plan is endorsed by the State Road Commission and that the project never will be cheaper. As the lake continues to recede, the road - what's left of it - continues to deteriorate, he said.