DENVER — An appeals board is upholding the Bureau of Land Management's decision to grant the artist Christo a permit for his Over the River project, which involves temporarily suspending 5.9 miles worth of silvery fabric panels in sections over 42 miles of the Arkansas River.
The Interior Board of Land Appeals on Friday rejected arguments that the BLM didn't fully consider impacts of Over the River before granting the permit.
Meanwhile, two lawsuits challenging Over the River in state and federal courts are still pending.
"We can now move on from the agency hijinks and into federal court where we can get an unbiased review of this project," said Michael Harris, a lawyer representing the group Rags Over the Arkansas River, which is trying to block Christo's plan. "We fully expect the court to find that the OTR project approval is illegal."
New York-based Christo said in a written statement that he remains confident that state and federal permitting processes were thorough and complete. "This is one of three legal hurdles that needed to be overcome, and I am very happy with this decision," Christo said.
Even if Christo wins in the lawsuits, it would be at least 2016 before the project would be ready for public display.
He and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, got their first inkling for Over the River in 1992.
Work to set up a system of anchors and cables to suspend the fabric panels over the river would unfold over roughly two years. The project would be displayed for two weeks in the month of August, when the river would be calm enough for rafters to peer up at the fabric as they float underneath and when drivers on U.S. 50 along the river could look down.
Denver-based environmental consultant Rocky Smith, who was among those filing the administrative appeal of the BLM's permitting decision, said he still thinks Over the River is "horribly inappropriate" for the canyon Christo plans to use.
Opponents contend the project threatens bighorn sheep, public safety, traffic on U.S. 50, and businesses that depend on the scenic river to draw anglers, rafters and tourists.
Christo's team has said it plans dozens of measures to mitigate impacts.