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Ken Salazar, Secretary Of The Interior, Talks Christo's 'Over The River' Project At Colorado College State Of The Rockies Conference

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Colorado College's 2012 State of the Rockies conference featured Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Director of the USGS Dr. Marcia McNutt, both CC alumni, speaking on energy, water, and conservation issues in the West. Prior to their presentations, the two fielded questions from the press and discussed Christo's "Over The River" project. If approved, the project would suspend 5.9 miles of fabric over a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Canon City in Colorado.

The BLM recently approved the Over The River Project by Christo. Did you personally get involved with that approval? Do you support the project?

Secretary Salazar: I support the project. The record of decision was signed by the BLM, but I was aware of what was going on and I agree with the decision. It seems to me that it's important for a couple reasons. The first is that it brings attention to our rivers, and one of the planks of our 'Great Outdoors Agenda' is to have a focus on rivers and river restoration… One of the things that the Christo project will do is it will bring renewed attention to the rivers of America. So that's one impeller for the project -- the other is the economics of it. When you look at Chaffee County and Fremont County and that whole area… [rafting] is a huge job creator for that part of the Arkansas River Basin, so I think it's a good project.

The Denver Post reports that Christo's team already has federal approval to proceed, but still needs permits from Chaffee County, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and eventually the state patrol. Commissioners in Fremont County recently approved a permit for the fabric art project.

Construction was to begin in 2012 for an exhibition date of August 2014, but in February Christo's team postponed the exhibition date to August 2015, 7News reported. For reasoning behind the new date Christo's team said that it was due to a delayed approval to allow the project from the Bureau of Land Management which shortened the 28-month construction schedule to 24 months. The later date also gives local authorities more time to deliberate on the project.

And given the concern of some environmental groups about the project's impact on local land and wildlife, local authorities may need more time. In January, law students in the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the "Over the River" project. The DU law students filed the suit on behalf of Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR), a group that opposes the industrial scale art project due to what they claim are environmental issues and dangers to the residents and visitors of the proposed "Over the River" project area.

The Bureau of Land Management approved the project in November and is believed to be the first artwork to receive the BLM's approval through the drafting of a lengthy environmental impact statement. The project is estimated to cost $50 million, a cost paid for by Christo, and that materials used for the project would be recycled. Christo is also required to put several mitigation measures into place for local wildlife like bighorn sheep and birds.

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