http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/us/ch ... &emc=tha23
The $50 million project by the artist Christo, who hopes to drape nearly six miles of the Arkansas River here in southern Colorado with suspended bank-to-bank fabric, received approval from federal land managers late last year.
But on Wednesday, a new battlefield emerged in law and local politics: in Denver, opponents filed a federal lawsuit aiming to block construction, which Christo had hoped to begin this summer. The suit argues that land managers violated federal law in approving the plan and gauging its environmental impacts.
And two days of hearings before the Fremont County Commission began here in Cañon City — near the eastern end of the proposed 42-mile stretch of the river-as-art — to consider local event permits.
Christo’s supporters — a strange bedfellow’s mix of art lovers, politicians and tourism interests — rallied near the county administration building before the session began, handing out sky-blue T-shirts.
Anti-Christo forces, led by a group that has dubbed the project, and the name of their organization, “Rags Over the Arkansas River,” or ROAR, said that moneyed interests and state politicians were pushing a project that would mostly benefit outsiders.
“We should be looking into this greed,” said Yvonne I. Nelson, a resident of the canyon who described herself as “82 and feisty.”
Local business leaders and politicians, meanwhile, pointedly reminded the three members of the commission, in case they had forgotten, that the economy is still bad in this part of Colorado. “Over the River,” they said, which is financed entirely by Christo through the sale of his art, is a gift that would put places like Cañon City on the map, maybe even as a destination on the international art scene, in ways that could have huge long-term benefits.
Loving or hating Christo’s design, several suggested, is beside the point.
“Some people may see it as ragweed, some people may see it as a beautiful rose, but I think the benefit for the community is there,” said Colby Katchmar, a member of the Cañon City Council
The project, which is projected to draw upward of 400,000 visitors — during the two-year construction period and the two-week final exhibition, tentatively scheduled for August 2014 — has divided people over multiple fracture lines.
Some speakers at the hearing said they resented the pressure to say yes, which they said is bearing down on their small rural communities from local chambers of commerce and politicians, led by Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a vocal enthusiast.
Others said the project, in seeking to create art in the midst of an already stunning natural setting in a rugged river valley, would diminish nature by presuming to improve upon it — a prospect that would offend true lovers of Colorado’s wild beauty and keep them away.
“Coloradans are not New Yorkers — they come to the mountains for scenery, wildlife, recreation and peace and quiet,” Ellen Bauder, the vice president for science at ROAR, said in remarks to the commission. “Bumper-to-bumper traffic, stoplights in the middle of nowhere and long lines are not their idea of recreation, and no amount of public relations is going to make it so,” she added.
The lawsuit, filed on ROAR’s behalf by a group of students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, argues that land managers did not adequately address the long-term effects of the project on wildlife, especially the bighorn sheep that clamber about on the canyon’s cliffs.
And in classifying an art project as a “recreation activity,” the suit says, the federal analysts framed their assessment in ways that excused the impact of the thousands of bore-holes, rock-bolts and anchors that will have a cumulative effect, the suit says, not unlike industrial mining.
“In truth, the art project is akin to a massive resource extraction project, and under federal law should be treated as one,” the complaint reads.
A spokesman for the Over the River organization, Steve Coffin, said he was confident that the federal environmental impact statement, which took years to complete, would not be undone by the suit. “The E.I.S. was thorough and complete,” he said.
Art for art’s sake was somewhere in the mix, too. Liz Greene, 23, an artist from Denver, drove down on Tuesday to be here to support “Over the River,” and also for a hug.
Ms. Greene, who does multimedia art, while working a retailing job to make ends meet, said that as kind of a hobby, she collected hugs from famous artists, and had come here partly to bag a Christo.
She did. As he was chatting with supporters at the rally before the hearing, Ms. Greene took a deep breath, waited for an opening, and stepped up. “You’re great, can I hug you?” she asked him.
“Best hug ever,” she whispered after stepping away from the clutch.