ROAR Disappointed in Court’s Decision-May Appeal
ROAR is understandably disappointed in Friday’s decision by the federal court to defer to the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) approval of the Over the River Project (OTR) despite the destructive and dangerous nature of the project. ROAR is still reviewing the judicial opinion and considering other steps to prevent the OTR project from ever being allowed to happen, including the possibility of an appeal.
While the Court found that BLM 'technically' complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA), in no way does the court dismiss the destructive nature of the Over the River project.
ROAR began its work to oppose Christo's proposed Over the River Project in 1997 when the project was first being proposed for construction in sensitive Bighorn Sheep Canyon along the Arkansas River, now a designated gold medal river. In 2011, BLM issued its Record of Decision and shockingly approved the Over the River project despite massive public opposition, especially from the 5000 people who live in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and will be directly impacted for up to four years if the project goes forward. ROAR sued the BLM in February 2012 alleging the agency violated its own regulations and laws when it approved the project. ROAR knew this would be a case decided on the narrowest of technicalities and interpretation of NEPA and FLPMA. Still ROAR felt that challenging BLM for violations of NEPA and FLPMA was valid and the best way to stop the project.
Despite the daunting odds, ROAR has successfully delayed OTR for many years through its legal actions challenging BLM and Colorado's Parks & Wildlife Division. During this time thousands of people have become aware of just how destructive and dangerous the construction phase will be for the gold medal designated Arkansas River, Bighorn Sheep Canyon, the people who live in the canyon, those who travel through it every day on busy U.S. Highway 50 and the wildlife including Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons to name but a few of the species that will be at risk as a consequence of the OTR project.
ROAR is a local, grassroots, all-volunteer organization with minimal financial resources. It's work has been enabled by its dedicated board, advisers, members, supporters and several great attorneys who have volunteered their time to advise ROAR and represent ROAR in lawsuits.
In ROAR's battle to protect the gold medal designated Arkansas River and Bighorn Sheep Canyon, ROAR has challenged one of the largest and most intransigent federal bureaucracies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), artist Christo, and his OTR Corporation with their vast financial resources. Christo’s lobbying has been effective and persuaded countless public officials from Colorado to Washington, D.C., to essentially rubber stamp the project despite the officials having no real understanding of exactly what the project entails or how destructive it will be. They have bought Christo's hype at face value.
Ultimately ROAR knew it would be an uphill battle to stop Christo's behemoth OTR project. But ROAR’s members know firsthand the incomparable values of the Arkansas River and the sensitive Bighorn Sheep Canyon, they call home. They, better than any others, know it is worth fighting even a massive Washington D.C. bureaucracy and a famous artist who does not care one bit about how his project will hurt people, wildlife, the land and the river.
ROAR will continue to work to prevent the OTR project from ever being realized.
Federal court affirms BLM's approval of Over The River
Christo received great news to start the New Year. On January 2, 2015, the Federal District Court upheld the Bureau of Land Management's approval of Over The River. The dismissal of this challenge marks a major victory toward making this two-week temporary work of art a reality.
"I was always confident the court would uphold the BLM's actions because the Environmental Impact Statement conducted by the BLM was thorough and comprehensive," Christo said. "We have one appeal in state court still outstanding, but today we took a significant step forward in realizing Over The River."
The BLM's approval of Over The River has now been reviewed and upheld by both the Interior Board of Land Appeals and the federal court. An appeal to this decision is possible, but the ruling makes a strong statement about why all prior challenges to the federal permit have now been rejected. Any appeal would be nothing more than another attempt to delay the installation of Over The River.
The only remaining legal challenge to Over The River is now being heard by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The state district court originally upheld this Colorado State Parks agreement to approve Over The River in September 2013.
All Over The River approvals are based on comprehensive analysis that has withstood legal scrutiny at every step of the legal process. However, due to the complex installation schedule, Christo is waiting for successful resolution of the legal process before identifying the Over The River exhibition date.
Installation of Over The River requires 27 months to complete and must commence in a future January. This process includes hundreds of protective measures, including many times when work is prohibited or restricted due to sensitive wildlife, environmental, tourism and other periods. Final permitting and preparation for installation must begin well in advance of the actual construction, making it impossible to speculate on the potential timeline at this point.
The Over The River team looks forward to securing the few remaining permits and working with the BLM to develop a detailed event management plan so Christo can identify the installation schedule and move forward.
Happy New Year!