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Doing the math on Christo's Arkansas River wrap

"Over the River," the plan by husband-and-wife artists Christo and Jeanne Claude to stretch almost six miles of silvery fabric over the Arkansas River between Canon City and Salida at a cost of around $50 million, has plenty of supporters. Congressmen, college presidents, Chamber of Commerce types and sundry art lovers have weighed in to endorse the project. But lately, the Bureau of Land Management has been getting a dose of art criticism from the installation's opponents, who've studied the logistics of the enormous landscape wrap and say it doesn't present a pretty picture at all.

As was the case with their previous bit of exterior decorating in Colorado, the "Valley Curtain" in Rifle in 1972, the artists have pledged to fund all permits, installation and removal costs from private source. (See more of the offical version of the project here). But the numbers involved do give pause, especially if you're a disgruntled local who's joined ROAR, short for Rags Over the Arkansas River, the official naysayers.

At a recent BLM hearing in Canon City, the opponents weighed in with a host of questions about where all the river-gawkers will stay (the Salida-Florence area has less than 1,400 hotel rooms to handle a crowd that's expected to run anywhere from 250,000 to a million) and what's going to happen to all the soil moved (enough to fill 250 dump trucks) to drill anchors for the fabric canopy.

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But the stickiest questions have to do with the highway itself -- that's Highway 50, a busy two-lane road winding high above the river that may not be the best place for a bunch of distracted, rubbernecking motorists.

Consider, for a moment, that one of the hallmarks of Christo's work is its transitory nature -- but it'll still take a hell of a lot of preparation. The earliest "Over the River" could materialize is the summer of 2012, and then it's expected to be around for four weeks at most. But it could take up to two years to install the fabric pieces (which are in eight segments, over a stretch of forty miles of river) and another year to take it all down. So we're talking about a lot of construction and heavy trucks in the canyon over a long period of time, followed by a month of frenetic tourism, then another long period of deconstruction.

So the complaints are rolling in -- from fishermen and emergency services personnel, bighorn sheep advocates and commuters. All of that math will go into the environmental impact assessment, probably delaying the whole adventure in grand madness another few years.

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