Earlier this week, we blogged an update on the Over the River project, which, for now, hangs on the decisions of three separate lawsuits.
On Friday, we spoke with Joan Anzelmo, spokesperson for Rags Over the Arkansas River, Over the River’s main opposition group. ROAR has filed one of the three suits, theirs against the Bureau of Land Management for violating
state federal law in allowing the project.
However, before ROAR’s suit can continue, an administrative appeal through the Interior Board of Land Appeals must be decided. (This is an entirely separate affair, in which the board will decide if the BLM broke any rules in allowing the project. This was brought on by a group of individuals unaffiliated with ROAR.)
Anzelmo says that no matter what the outcome of the IBLA appeal, the federal judge presiding over the
other two suits federal suit will request a 60-day stay, further halting construction on the project. As of yet, OTR Corp. has not announced a new date for the exhibit.
“I think for folks who are wondering about the status, I think it’s helpful for people to understand that the OTR project is indefinitely delayed, per the lawsuits. And even if IBLA were to make a decision that supports BLM’s decision allowing the project, there’s still quite a few legal procedures that will ensue.
"We’re convinced that there are some serious violations that BLM made of two federal laws — the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act — and we have a strong case, so we think the project will be indefinitely delayed for a very, very, very long time. And it is our goal to make sure that the project never happens because of the devastation that it will wreak on Big Horn Sheep Canyon and that section of the Arkansas River.”
Professor Mike Harris from the University of Denver’s law clinic is taking the case pro bono, with his students. Meanwhile,
the other lawyers in the cases the lawyers defending the BLM and Colorado State Parks Board are costing the state tax dollars, Anzelmo says.
“In a sense, Christo’s having his cake and eating it too because they’re saying, ‘Oh no, the lawsuits are filed against the BLM and the state parks board,’ and he’s letting federal taxpayers and state of Colorado taxpayers foot the bill for the legal defense of the OTR project, which will be very costly.
"It is already costly to taxpayers because ... the organizations or the entities that should be regulating and providing oversight for a project as large-scale and industrial as this, instead of doing their oversight work and regulating, they’ve become the torchbearers for the project and the taxpayers are footing the bill. Certainly taxpayers are footing the bill as BLM and the state try and defend their approvals in court.”
ROAR also takes issue with the numbers OTR Corp. offers for economic impact. The quote given for temporary jobs, Anzelmo says, is really only half the 620 positions stated, since half the work will be done by prisoners in area correctional facilities. This was what ROAR gleaned when OTR Corp. was petitioning for permits from the Fremont County Board of Commissioners.
Yet Anzelmo and ROAR are more focused on the litigation right now. She estimates ROAR
members board members and attorneys are working through 90,000 pages of documents, from the Environmental Impact Statement to the administrative record that BLM was required to file with the court to ancillary paperwork. Plus, there are many variables, starting with the IBLA decision, that could send the BLM “back to the drawing board” in reviewing the EIS, she says.
As for when that IBLA announcement could arrive, no one knows for sure. Anzelmo tentatively expects to return to court sometime in the spring.
ROAR was formed in the late 1990s, after Over the River was first publicly announced. It became a nonprofit in 2005 and according to Anzelmo has about 300 members and 5,000 “supporters” from across the country and overseas. A supporter, she explains, is anyone who has donated money or approached ROAR to help.
“As people understand more fully what the impacts will be and as the courts really evaluate this," she says, "we feel very confident that the project will never happen.”