Christo's "Over the River:" DU students and staff on their opposition and lawsuit to stop project

The grassroots group Rags Over the Arkansas River is trying to block Christo's "Over the River" art project along the Arkansas River. Students from the Environmental Law Clinic at DU's Sturm College of Law were at the Denver federal courthouse at 9 a.m. today, filing suit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on behalf of ROAR the same day as a public hearing that could secure Fremont County's approval of the project.

ROAR opposes the project due to concerns about environmental damage and risks to residents and visitors of Fremont County and Chaffee County -- the area surrounding the "Over the River" project.

ROAR spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo says the organization has been engaged in discussion with the BMI for seven years, but with no luck. "I think our messages have been ignored, so we've upped the ante today with a federal lawsuit," she says. "Today at the Fremont County commissioners meetings, and tomorrow also in Cotopaxi [in Chaffee County], we will be testifying about our grave concerns over public safety and public access."

DU Law student Justine Shepherd says she's concerned the project could pose a danger to local residents. "Just the traffic impacts alone will be very destructive," she says. "Emergency response vehicles will have issues getting anywhere in the canyons , and there will be much longer travel times just to get to their jobs or for home care services."

According to Anzelmo, opposition to Christo's project comes from locals, but with backing from external communities like Denver. DU Assistant Professor Michael Harris explains, "If you look at the political support, unfortunately there's a lot of it from people who think this will be great for tourism and the economy...but they don't realize the damage it will be doing to local communities and the environment. We're talking about thirty-foot holes here, all filled with cement."

Anzelmo says surveying and construction could begin as early as this spring if the project is approved. "But depending on what happens with our law suit, we will continue to work DU attorneys and it's possible we will come back to court and ask for an injunction against the project beginning in any way."

More from our Arts archive: "Reader: Ecoterrorists will be all over 'Over the River'."

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