Feb. 1, 2012—Students in the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law on Feb. 1 filed suit in federal court to block the proposed "Over the River" industrial scale art project. The project proposes hanging aluminum coated material over 5.9 miles of the Arkansas River, in scattered sections over a 42-mile stretch.
The suit is being filed against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on behalf of the grassroots, all-volunteer citizen group Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR), whose members are dedicated to preserving and protecting the headwaters of the Arkansas River and Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The group opposes the industrial scale art project citing numerous environmental issues and dangers to the residents and visitors to the area. The suit is filed by students Mason Brown and Justine Shepherd, under the guidance of Professor Michael Harris.
According to the suit, the project will be built almost entirely within the federally designated Arkansas Canyonlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern, key habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the symbol of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado's official state animal. And the stretch of the Arkansas River running through the area is among the most popular rafting rivers in the world and is designated by the state as the most popular river for fishing in Colorado.
Construction of the Over the River project will take some 28 months, with another three to 12 months to take down, the suit alleges. It will require an estimated 3,000 crew work days and involve drilling up to 35 feet into bedrock to anchor some 9,000 industrial bolts and anchors, most of which will be left behind when the project is over. Work could make bighorn sheep susceptible to disease and could disturb and otherwise harm other endangered and threatened species, including peregrine falcons and bald and golden eagles.
In addition, construction and demolition includes the use of equipment commonly used in mining and road building, including hydraulic drill, long-reach excavators, wheeled excavators, boom truck cranes, grouters, air compressors, water tanks, grout mixers, support trailers, steel rock anchors, and anchor frames.
"The Bureau of Land Management and other government officials refuse to acknowledge that the impacts of this project are not 'short term' in nature," Harris says. "For a two-week exhibition, the BLM has authorized Christo to undertake a two-year construction project in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas along the Arkansas River. The boring of over 9,000 holes into the bedrock along the riverbank and the installation of a complex system of cables and anchors will damage the area's scenic, cultural and wildlife resources just as if the bureau had authorized the development of a massive mining operation in the canyon."
The suit contends work will deny river and recreational facility access to fishermen and visitors, and road closures during construction will create inconvenience and dangerous situations for area residents.
ROAR spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo characterized ROAR's battle to stop Christo's destructive Over the River project as a modern-day David versus Goliath struggle.
"With this lawsuit," she says, "ROAR is aiming its slingshot directly at the Goliath Over the River project and at the Bureau of Land Management that gave the go-ahead despite its federal stewardship responsibilities for public lands, water, wildlife."