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Christo Clears a Legal Hurdle in Colorado

A stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado where "Over the River" would be installed (photo courtesy ROAR)
A stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado where “Over the River” would be installed (photo courtesy ROAR)

A Colorado District Court judge has ruled in Christo’s favor in one of the lawsuits facing his controversial “Over the River” (OTR) project. Work on the piece, which would involve suspending a canopy of shiny, polypropylene fabric over a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River for two weeks, has been on indefinite hold thanks to a court order issued last fall.

The recently decided case was brought by opposition group Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR) against the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Board, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Department of Natural Resources, with OTR joining the suit. Worried about the environmental impact of the project, ROAR challenged the agreement between the Colorado Parks Department and OTR, asking Judge Robert McGahey to reassess the nature of OTR, with the goal of proving that it needs a different type of permit, and to determine that the board had failed to consider the impact of the project on the Arkansas Headwater Recreation Area. On both counts, McGahey decided in the parks department and OTR’s favor, concluding:

The Board acted within the scope of its statutory authority when it entered into the Agreement with OTR and did not act in an arbitrary or capricious manner. Accordingly, the decision of the agency is AFFIRMED, and ROAR’s request for relief is DENIED. The Complaint for Judicial Review is DISMISSED, with prejudice.

“I am very happy with the Colorado court’s decision to uphold the State Parks agreement,” Christo said in a prepared statement. “We have now cleared two of the three legal hurdles that need to be overcome and I look forward to the federal court making its decision on the third case still pending.”

As he points out, the last legal hurdle — and undoubtedly the biggest one — is the federal case that ROAR has brought against the Bureau of Land Management. Joan Anzelmo, a spokeswoman for the group, told Hyperallergic that ROAR is “disappointed” in the Colorado District Court decision but “moving forward to have our case against BLM heard in federal court.” (The case has been delayed.)

“ROAR believes BLM does have the authority to approve the project,” Anzelmo added, “because the impact on Bighorn Sheep Canyon from a massive, industrial art project is simply not allowed under the area’s existing land use management plan, which instead directs that BLM will protect Bighorn Sheep Canyon as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.”

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