Study: Christo project could impact environment
July 16, 2010
DENVER – Federal land managers say artist Christo’s plan to drape fabric over several miles of the Arkansas River in Colorado would have a significant impact on recreation and traffic, with an estimated 350,000 people expected to flock to the area to view it.
The Bureau of Land Management released its draft environmental study Friday on Christo’s “Over the River” project, adding that the “unprecedented” effort could have a moderate to significant impact on bighorn sheep and historical sites.
Steve Coffin, a Denver-based spokesman for the project, said any impact would be temporary.
Christo wants to use a system of anchors, frames and cables to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric across eight spots along a 42-mile stretch of the river. The BLM studied seven versions of the project, including a scaled-down effort.
Coffin said the alternatives were not developed in consultation with Christo and that the artist would push for the full project. He said Christo has already comprised and scaled down what originally was seen as a 10.4-mile project.
“A shorter version of Over the River is not Over the River,” Coffin said. “What has gotten lost here is the artistic vision, and that’s really what this is all about.”
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The draft study says construction, viewing and removal over nearly three years would affect more than 3,500 acres.
After a 30-day comment period and a series of public meetings, the BLM will decide which alternative – including not doing the project at all – it prefers. That decision isn’t expected until February.
Christo did not immediately return an e-mail request for comment. Christo and late wife Jeanne-Claude conceived the project in 1992 and began the permitting process in 1997.
It calls for suspending fabric roughly horizontally, eight to 25 feet above the water between the scenic town of Salida and Canon city. It is designed to be viewed from U.S. 50 and from those rafting the river.
Jeanne-Claude died in November. The husband-and-wife team have created 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.
Christo’s website touting the project said the panels won’t block wildlife access to the river, that there would be construction buffers around sheep areas, and the viewing has been timed around breeding and seasons.
However, the study said the project is “unique and unprecedented, and impacts (on bighorn sheep) cannot be predicted with a high degree of precision.” Authors of the study said the project’s scale, scope and duration show a need for more efforts to explore ways to minimize the impact on the sheep and develop an effective monitoring plan.
The study also estimated more boat trips down the river during viewing, increased traffic from those visiting the area, lane closures during consturction, and cable anchors on four historic properties.
Other issues requring more study include insurance, emergency services access, and potential for pollution should the artwork collapse.