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Fremont County residents continue to fight "Over The River" art - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Fremont County residents continue to fight "Over The River" art project

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Fremont County stretch of Arkansas River under consideration for Christo art project Fremont County stretch of Arkansas River under consideration for Christo art project
FREMONT COUNTY -

 The legal battle continues over artist Christo's "Over The River" art project.

Last week opposition group Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, filed a motion for the Colorado Court of Appeals to rehear the latest appeal to their lawsuit. They are suing the agencies that approved the project, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. In the most recent appeal, which was overruled Feb. 12, appellate judges told ROAR that while the former Parks Division did act unlawfully in bypassing normal protocol, it was not enough to stop the project.

Now, ROAR members want the judges to take another look at their concerns.

Christo hopes to drape fabric across portions of a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River for his project. One of the reasons he chose the location was for the beautiful views and rich wildlife. A major concern of locals is the disruption of the habitat, especially for the population of bighorn sheep.

"The sheep tolerate what's happening now," says Cathey Young, who has been with ROAR since its inception 17 years ago. "They're very used to the traffic. They know that there's going to be people every once in a while going down the river. This whole thing of the OTR project is going to be novel."

Additionally, the BLM recently designated the area as a Critical Environmental Concern. ROAR President Dan Ainsworth says, "This thing violates every rule that they've put into place to protect that, to protect the environment and the sheep and the people."

Canon City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Hyams has worked with Christo before, and she says the artist truly respects the environment. He has already agreed to help mitigate the impact to the sheep by building a new habitat enhancement corridor complete with drinking areas. "I believe that he takes a specific interest in making sure that the land and the community is left as is or better than it was before he came in," says Hyams.

The ROAR members say their complaint is less about the environmental impact on the river, and more about how their livelihood will be impacted during the lengthy construction period. In reference to the drilling along the river, Ainsworth says, "These cranes take up 22 feet if they're deployed properly and the highway is 24 feet wide. You say, 'well you can use the shoulder.' There is no shoulder." Some portions of US-50 are lined with rock walls on one side and the river on the other.

Beyond everyday traffic concerns, they say there could be adverse effects in case of emergencies. "If you've got a crane or a drilling rig blocking traffic anyway, people could die before you get them to the hospital," says Young, "so that was a grave concern."

Hyams says, "The more appeals, the more conflict, the more people challenge, the greater recognition they bring to Over The River, so that when it does go through, it's going to bring in even more people that want to come see it."

The Chamber of Commerce estimates that tourists will bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars during the two-week exhibition. The project has been put on hold pending the litigation. Christo hopes to show Over The River during August, but the year has yet to be announced.

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