DENVER -Fremont County commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a permit for the artist Christo's Over The River project, which involves suspending huge fabric panels from cables over parts of the Arkansas River along U.S. 50.
Christo's team already has federal permission to proceed but still needs permits from Chaffee County, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and eventually the State Patrol.
The team hopes to start construction next year and exhibit Over the River in August 2015 for two weeks before dismantling the project.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, in approving the project, has required dozens of measures to mitigate impacts to wildlife, traffic and the environment. Yet opponents say Christo's proposal to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric in certain sections on a 42-mile stretch of the river will still be too disruptive to bighorn sheep in the area, local traffic, and fishing and river rafting businesses.
Rags Over the Arkansas River, which opposes the project, was disappointed with the Fremont County vote but hopeful that two pending lawsuits could still block Christo, spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said.
"The 2.5-year construction phase is similar to a mining operation. There will be massive amounts of drilling equipment and cranes, 9,000 holes drilled into the canyon," she said. "It's so mind-boggling to think the agencies responsible for protecting wildlife and the good of the public have approved this project."
Fremont County required more than 30 conditions before approving a permit, Christo's team said, including funding costs the county might incur for mitigating road impacts or staffing. Christo didn't think the conditions were onerous.
"We are very happy that the decision was not only positive, but all commissioners voted for the project," said Christo from Denver International Airport. Christo flew to Colorado to be present for the commissioners' vote but was returning home to New York on Tuesday to work on art he will sell to fund his project, whose costs are around $50 million.
Christo and his late-wife, Jeanne-Claude, have said getting approval to erect their projects have been as much a part of their artwork as displaying them.
"The project is not something that happens overnight," Christo said. "It will grow with different points of view for or against the project. It will get people thinking of us, how things look great or not great. All that work to do the project is all our project."