Christo project gets state parks nod in Eagle
EAGLE, Colorado – Colorado State Parks has signed off on a deal to allow the controversial “Over the River” exhibit proposed by artist Christo to proceed, provided the project gets a final approval from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The Colorado State Parks Board of Directors gathered Friday in Eagle for what will be the group’s final meeting. Under legislation passed last month, the Colorado parks department and the Colorado Division of Wildlife are merging to create a new entity – the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. The Christo proposal was the current board’s final action item under the state parks banner.
Famed artist Christo, together with his late artistic partner Jeanne-Claude, has proposed the “Over the River” project, eyed for an August 2014 exhibition. The project involves suspending a total of 5.9 miles of silvery luminous fabric panels high above a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Canon City. Christo and Jeanne-Claude selected this site for its aesthetic merits and technical viability after traveling 14,000 miles and inspecting 89 rivers in the Rocky Mountains. Over The River is currently undergoing an environmental impact statement process with a final decision expected from the Bureau of Land Management late this summer.
In crafting a memorandum of agreement to allow the project, Colorado State Parks board member Jim Pribyl noted the state and the Over the River Corporation hammered out a deal that specifies how the state will receive a $550,000 payment to offset environmental impacts and administrative costs associated with the art project.
“There is a set payment of $550,000 that will be made to Colorado State Parks if the project goes forward and that is an absolute number. We will get no more, we will get no less,” Pribyl noted.
Tim Monohan, board counsel from the state attorney general’s office, noted there were three specific issues of concern for state parks related to the Christo proposal – environmental impacts, administrative costs and reasonable fees. He said the memorandum addressed each of these issues and clearly outlines the state’s approval is contingent on the BLM’s final determination.
Several opponents of the “Over the River” project traveled from the Salida area to urge the state parks board to reject the art project. Ellen Bouder, representing an environmental coalition opposed to the project, argued that approving “Over the River” would undermine the overall mission of Colorado State Parks and result in serious impacts to both wildlife and the natural environment.
Greg Felt, a fly fishing outfitter from Salida, said the project would have a devastating effect on anglers and could result in long-term damage to valuable fisheries.
“The anglers and all Colorado citizens expect you to look after the natural environment,” Felt said. “There is simply too much at stake to consider such a gamble. … It’s a sell out, a grab for money from Colorado State Parks.”
“My personal feeling is this project affects my livelihood,” said another Salida based angler, Rod Patch. “If you vote to allow the ‘Over the River’ project before you, you are selling out the fishing industry.”
But members of the parks board responded that the project proposal has been extensively vetted during an approval process that dates back to 2008. They argued that while there will be short term negative impacts associated with the exhibit, the exposure for the state and long-term potential benefits outweigh them.
“The greatest threat to preservation of our natural resources is education,” said board member Bill Kane.
He argued the Christo exhibit will provide massive publicity for Colorado and educate many people about the state’s natural wonders.
“These things always come down to balance,” said Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “The benefits so far outweigh the impacts that this is the right thing to do for Colorado right now.”
The board unanimously approved the memorandum of agreement.
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