Noah’s Ark replica owners sue insurance company over rain damage

Eli Rosenberg, Karen Heller

It is one of the world's classic stories.

A gigantic ark gets built with the help of a higher power, a symbolic refuge from the depravity of humankind. It is a huge, grandiose structure constructed out of wood that is perhaps larger than anything comparable in the world. Then heavy rains begin to fall, inundating the earth around it.

And that is when the lawyers are called.

Genesis, this is not. Not in 2019, not in the United States.

Ark Encounter, the multimillion-dollar theme park and monument to fundamentalist Christianity whose centrepiece is a giant replica of Noah's Ark, is suing its insurance carriers over rain-related damages on the property.

The company, Crosswater Canyon, is seeking to recoup what it says were $1m (£786,500) worth of damages, as well as attorney’s fees and costs, and an unspecified amount of punitive damages.

The irony has not been lost on local media organisations and observers on social media. Even the American Atheists took a shot on Twitter.

This particular chapter begins in 2017, when rains came to northern Kentucky. They did not fall for 40 days and 40 nights this time.

According to the National Weather Service, on-and-off precipitation throughout the year dropped 40-50 inches of rain that year on Williamstown, the town where the theme park is located - just a slight bump above average.

But a slope abutting an access road near the east side of the theme park's ersatz ark began to fail in May, and eventually was subject to a "significant landslide" that took out a barrier along the road, according to the lawsuit.

The theme park reported the property damage to its insurance companies.

Engineers it hired recommended it replace the barrier with a retaining wall with drilled concrete shafts to prevent further damage, and the theme park also repaved and repaired portions of the road, the grading and added some drainage improvements. The total cost was about $1m, the lawsuit says.

But the insurance companies denied claims for the improvements, saying that the policy had an exclusion for correcting design deficiencies or faulty workmanship.

The two sides went back and forth, according to the lawsuit and the insurance companies did pay a "very small portion" of Ark Encounter's claim. But the organisation says they have "breached their contractual obligations, acted in bad faith, and violated Kentucky law by failing to provide further coverage."

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in district court in Kentucky. The Allied World Assurance Co is named as a defendant, along with three other carriers, none of which responded to requests for comment.

The $120m Ark Encounter, where adult tickets cost $48, was completed in 2016, with a zoo, zip lines, and a restaurant in addition to its five-story high replica ark. It was the brainchild of the Ken Ham and his ministry, Answers in Genesis, which also created the Creation Museum. Mr Ham, is a Christian fundamentalist and creationist who argues that the Bible is a historical narrative that is meant to be taken literally.

He believes that dinosaurs lived alongside humans and that the biblical flood created the Grand Canyon. And he maintains that Noah laboured seven decades to construct his vessel and was 600 years old when the storm surged.

He did not respond to a request for comment sent to Ark Encounter spokesperson Melany Ethridge.

"The lawsuit speaks for itself," read a statement she distributed on behalf of the park. "Ark Encounter guests have been unaffected by the work being done at the access road. Hours of operation were never affected."

The theme park was met with no small amount of controversy when it opened, focused mainly on its sources of funding, including the $62m in junk bonds that were floated by the town of Williamstown.

The ACLU and other groups charged that Answers in Genesis should have not been eligible for state and local subsidies because of its discriminatory hiring practices.

As a condition of employment, the museum and ark staff of 900, including 350 seasonal workers, must sign a statement of faith rejecting evolution and declaring that they regularly attend church and view homosexuality as a sin.

The story of Noah's Ark is found in the Old Testament, in Genesis. It tells of a God who wipes every creature off the face of the earth with a flood for their evil, except for Noah and the animals he brings aboard.

"The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth," one translation of the Bible notes in the passage explaining the God's motivation for the flood.

The Washington Post