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Christo's "Over The River" legal wrangle far from over

Contrary to what you read in the papers, the legal battle over the artist Christo's controversial "Over the River" project -- which involves suspending translucent, silvery fabric panels at intervals along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River -- isn't about to go away any time soon. In fact, the group of local tourism, business and environmental interests fighting the installation has a raft of protests that seem to get more intriguing as the lawsuit evolves, including a concern that the massive construction effort involved in the project poses a kind of fire hazard.

An article over the weekend in the Pueblo Chieftain suggests that the lawsuit filed by Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR) opposing the project is on the verge of being tossed out of court. ROAR takes issue with that in a rebuttal on its website, noting that while the replies filed by the Bureau of Land Management and the project's backers contain "boilerplate language asking for relief and dismissal," they are not formal motions to dismiss and are unlikely to resolve the dispute. The project, which is estimated to take more than three years to install and dismantle and would be on display for two weeks, still has no firm start date.

New York City 2011: Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for Over The River (Photo: Wolfgang Volz) © 2011 Christo
New York City 2011: Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for Over The River (Photo: Wolfgang Volz) © 2011 Christo

Christo's proposal has won state and federal approvals and the support of many political leaders -- not to mention huzzahs from art lovers, who've denounced the opposition as "simply art-haters." But ROAR has raised a range of issues about the impacts of the plan, from the formidable traffic and commuter delays it will create in the river canyon along busy U.S. 50 to the disruption of critical bighorn sheep habitat.

And one argument in the opposition's fusillade of objections tends to hold more water as our drought-stricken state deals with the aftermath of one wildfire after another -- the claim that the presence of heavy drilling equipment in the canyon for months, needed to install anchor bolts and other hardware for the fabric panels, poses an ongoing threat to emergency response traffic, including firefighting efforts.

It's up to U.S. District Senior Judge John Kane to sort through ROAR's amended complaint and the various responses from Christo's Over the River Corp. and the BLM, insisting that the project meets environmental standards. Stay tuned, and don't expect this river ruckus to have a tidy ending in the near future.

More from our Follow That Story archive circa September 2010: "Christo's 'Over the River': High art meets the local commute in the Wall Street Journal."


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