Christo’s ‘Over the River’ project in Colorado faces last legal hurdle

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DENVER -- Students at the Denver School of the Arts got an unexpected treat on Friday, as the artist known as Christo stopped in, giving them an update on both the "Over the River" and "Floating Piers" projects.

The "Over the River" project, first proposed 20 years ago, has far more interest locally, considering the world-renowned environmental artist has plans to install it along the Arkansas River in Colorado.

Proponent's of the project got some good news from the Colorado Supreme Court last month, in that for a third time, a complaint aiming to block its commencement was dismissed. Specially, the court denied a request for further review of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife's decision to OK the project.

That decision leaves opponents only a U.S. Court of Appeals challenge of a ruling that upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the project. That challenge was being heard by the Denver court on Wednesday.

A ruling on the case was not expected to be immediately forthcoming.

Christo's "Over the River" project would drape an almost 6-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in translucent fabric, which would be anchored by steel cables at eight different points along a 42-mile stretch of river on the federal land between Salida and Cañon City.

Opponents, some of whom have dubbed themselves Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, have argued the project would have an adverse impact on the environment, including bighorn sheep in the area, as well as residents and traffic on U.S. 50 through the canyon.

Over the course of a 1,700-page Environmental Impact Statement, the Bureau of Land Management disagreed. And the environmental plan the bureau has required "Over the River" to follow has been upheld by multiple courts.

If it clears this final legal challenge, "Over the River" is expected to take about two years to complete. It would remain on display for about two weeks before what's expected to be a three-month removal process.

This wouldn't be Christo's first foray into the Centennial State. He and his wife and typical co-creator Jeanne-Claude, who has since passed away, erected the "Valley Curtain" in Rifle over a two-year period spanning from 1970 to 1972.

That project involved draping a 200,000-square foot orange sheet across a 1,250-foot-wide gap between two mountain slopes near the remote city on the Western Slope. It stood for about 28 hours before high winds damaged it, prompting its deconstruction.

It was one of Christo's first large-scale pieces, and it led him to fall in love with our state.

"I've had a dear connection to Colorado ever since then," he said on Friday.

Similarly, Lloyd Wilson, one of the land owners who agreed to let Christo use his property for the "Valley Curtain" project, has shared a connection with Christo's art, opting to leave the concrete foundations that anchored the curtain on his land as a tribute.

"We all enjoyed the 'Valley Curtain' so much that we wanted a piece of this history to stay behind after the project was completed," Wilson wrote in letter supporting Christo's proposal for "Over the River."

Other proponents of the project included Denver School of the Arts student Alex Hielman, who attended Christo's lecture last week.

“If you were driving down the road, the river is something you might not have noticed before,” Hielman said. “This might help people pay a little more attention to their surroundings.”

After his speaking engagement in Denver Friday, Christo stressed that the delays surrounding "Over the River" haven't all been due to legal challenges. He said he has also caught up in other work, including the "Wrapped Reichstag" project in Berlin and "The Gates" project in New York's Central Park -- both of which spanned multiple decades.

The 80-year-old's most recent work -- "Floating Piers" -- is set to debut on Italy's Lake Iseo in June 2016.

Christo has two sold out lectures in Metro State in Denver this week.

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