DENVER — Federal land managers announced a final decision Monday approving Christo's art proposal to suspend 5.9 miles worth of silvery, translucent fabric over a stretch of the Arkansas River, with measures aimed at protecting bighorn sheep and other wildlife.
Christo's team still needs permits from two counties, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the State Patrol for the $50 million Over the River project, but construction is expected to start next year. It would be displayed for two weeks in August 2014 before being dismantled.
The Bureau of Land Management had said in July its preferred alternative for the project stuck close to what Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, formally proposed. It's believed to be the first artwork to receive the agency's approval through the drafting of an environmental impact statement, which was hundreds of pages long.
"We are elated," Christo said from New York. "We have a work of art that does not exist (producing) a 1,686-page book. Most artists would love to have that. Most artists, works are written when their sculpture is sculpted, the paint is dry. ... It's a brilliant, historical thing.
Opponents have said the work needed just to construct the anchor-and-cable system for suspending the fabric would disrupt wildlife, clog traffic on U.S. 50 along the river, and limit rafting and fishing in a scenic region that depends on summer tourism and recreation. Colorado wildlife commissioners voted in May to send a letter opposing the project.
This summer, fly-fishing businesses and a group called Rags Over the Arkansas River sued the state over an agreement for Christo's team to pay $550,000 to cover costs and impacts of carrying out Over the River. Their lawsuit said a state permit should have been required.
Christo's team counters that the BLM is requiring more than 100 measures to mitigate impacts on traffic, safety and wildlife.
The BLM said the project would draw an estimated 400,000 visitors during construction and display and generate $121 million in economic output.
"Drawing visitors to Colorado to see this work will support jobs in the tourism industry and bring attention to the tremendous outdoor recreation opportunities in this area," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado, said in a written statement.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude first put a vague idea for Over the River on paper in 1992. It has taken years to get proper approvals for it, but it was also delayed while the couple focused on the 2005 display of The Gates, which erected 7,503 saffron-colored fabric panels in New York's Central Park.
The BLM announcement came a day before Christo was to speak at a news conference announcing his gift of two works related to Over the River to the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The museum owns dozens of Christo's other works.
Christo funds his projects by selling his work.
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