Coloradans Sue BLM for Over the River, Christo Shrugs

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Photo: Copyright Christo

There's nothing like a mountain community scorned. As Colorado's Fremont County weighs its decision on whether to grant a land use permit to public artist Christo so he can hang a series of translucent fabric panels above the Arkansas River, hundreds of opponents and supporters gathered at two public meetings this week, in Canon City and Cotopaxi, Colorado. The county's board of commissioners could decide on whether to grant a temporary land use permit for the project as soon as its February 28 meeting.

Christo and his vocal supporters say the art will draw tourism and dollars to the communities along the river. Opponents say the work will hamper traffic on Highway 50, endanger public health and hurt wildlife along the river, and they've escalated their fight this week, filing a lawsuit that claims the Bureau of Land Management violated federal land management and environmental laws when it approved the project late last year. Christo says it's all part of the process.

The suit was filed this week, by a University of Denver law professor and two of his students, on behalf of the opposition group, Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR). ROAR has already taken legal action with the Colorado Parks Division and it made a request to the Department of Interior's Interior Board of Land Appeals to place a stay on the BLM approval. The board had until January 23 to place a stay, but it didn't do so. 

ROAR's latest spokesperson, former superintendent of the Colorado National Monument Joan Anzelmo, is jumping in at a time when the group really needs a strong, authoritative voice to lead its final push to stop the project. 

But if Christo was going to be deterred, he would have been deterred long ago. The Over the River project is decades in the making and he considers public debate part of his artistic process. “I take it like a very exciting part of the life of the project,” the 76-year-old Bulgarian-born artist told CBS Denver. “I say in the very beginning it’s incredible gratification to see the people talking so much about my work of art.”

Steve Coffin, Over the River spokesperson, feels the project will succeed. “The environmental impact statement was a two and half year process and it involved a number of different government agency,” he told Outside. It was very comprehensive. You name it, it was studied. So we are very confident that the EIS can withstand this further scrutiny.”

— Mary Catherine O'Connor

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