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Group Says BLM Draft On Christo Proposal Flawed

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Christo (credit: CBS)

Christo (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Federal land managers are considering a proposal by the artist Christo to hang 5.9 miles of shimmering fabric across the Arkansas River in Colorado for two weeks, but supporters and opponents of the plan aren’t keen on a compromise.

The Bureau of Land Management is reviewing comments on “Over the River” before deciding on a permit for the New York- based artist’s proposal.

The BLM also is reviewing public opinions on alternate, mostly smaller, versions that it listed in a draft environmental impact statement.

Christo’s team told the BLM that only Christo’s own version honors the vision he and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, had for river rafters to look up at the sky and canyon walls peeking through wind-rippled fabric. The group Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, supports only the “no-action” alternative to keep Christo out altogether, said the group’s lawyer, Ben Kass.

One of ROAR’s main arguments in a letter last month to the BLM was that none of the alternatives suggested using other rivers.

“We’re not against art. We’re not against Christo. This is the wrong area for the project,” said Kass, who is working pro bono.

ROAR and WildEarth Guardians contend the area is too environmentally sensitive, both for the traffic the project would bring to U.S. 50 next to the river and for the heavy equipment that, within a two-year period, would help build the system to rig the panels.

ROAR says the congestion could delay emergency vehicles and disrupt angling and rafting that bring in tourism dollars.

Christo’s team insists it wouldn’t fully close U.S. 50 and that they prefer displaying Over the River in August, after the peak rafting and tourist season. Christo also has adjusted fabric locations to reduce the effect to sheep.

Construction would be limited during the summer, when traffic is higher, his team says.

The BLM expects to decide on a permit in 2011. The project could happen as soon as 2013.

“We know that there are public concerns associated with this project, and it’s very important to Christo that these issues are properly addressed,” Over the River project director Jonita Davenport said in a written statement. “That is why Christo and Jeanne-Claude requested an environmental impact statement, so that any potential impacts could be thoroughly evaluated and mitigated.” She said team welcomed the public comments.

Christo and his wife are known for several large-scale outdoor pieces, including the New York City extravaganza, “The Gates,” 7,503 fabric panels installed in Central Park in 2005. The duo also created “Valley Curtain,” which featured 142,000 square feet of orange nylon across Colorado 325 near Rifle.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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