Academics and Research / News

Law students sue to block Christo’s ‘Over the River’ project

Mason Brown, Professor Michael Harris, Justine Shepherd and ROAR spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo speak to reporters after filing a suit to block the 'Over the River' project. Photo: Chase Squires

Students in the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law on Feb. 1 filed suit in federal court to block “Over the River,” an industrial-scale art project by the well-known artist Christo that was approved in November by the Bureau of Land Management.

The project proposes hanging aluminum-coated material over 5.9 miles of the Arkansas River in southern Colorado, in scattered sections over a 42-mile stretch.

The suit was filed against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on behalf of the grassroots, all-volunteer citizen group Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR), whose members are dedicated to preserving and protecting the headwaters of the Arkansas River and Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The group opposes the project, citing numerous environmental issues and dangers to the residents of and visitors to the area. The suit was filed by third-year law students Mason Brown and Justine Shepherd, under the guidance of law Professor Michael Harris.

The team, joined by ROAR spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo, entered the suit at the federal courthouse in Denver then addressed reporters gathered outside.

“The BLM is charged with protecting our public land resources through extensive land management plans,” Shepherd said. “However, by permitting this project, the BLM is ignoring its obligation to the public. The Over The River project flies in the face of the BLM’s land use plan.”

According to the suit, the project will be built almost entirely within the federally designated Arkansas Canyonlands Area of Critical Environmental Concern, key habitat for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the symbol of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado’s official state animal. And the stretch of the Arkansas River running through the area is among the most popular rafting rivers in the world and is designated by the state as the most popular river for fishing in Colorado.

Construction of the Over the River project will take some 28 months, with another three to 12 months to take down, the suit alleges. It will require an estimated 3,000 crew work days and involve drilling up to 35 feet into bedrock to anchor some 9,000 industrial bolts and anchors, most of which will be left behind when the project is over. Work could make bighorn sheep susceptible to disease and could disturb and otherwise harm other endangered and threatened species, including peregrine falcons and bald and golden eagles.

In addition, construction and demolition includes the use of equipment commonly used in mining and road building, including hydraulic drills, long-reach excavators, wheeled excavators, boom truck cranes, grouters, air compressors, water tanks, grout mixers, support trailers, steel rock anchors, and anchor frames.

Anzelmo said in addition to wanting to protect the delicate environment and endangered and threatened species in the area, her group is representing the people who live in the area that will be affected. Their voices, she said, have been largely ignored.

She said ROAR’s battle is a classic David and Goliath struggle, with residents, fishermen, hunters, boaters and tourists facing off against the massive resources of Christo’s financial backers and the Bureau of Land Management.

“We are hoping to vanquish the giant with the help of these great students from the University of Denver,” she said. “The BLM is ignoring its duty to the public.”

Harris said too little has been made of the massive impact the project will have. While many perceive the project as just a two-week exhibit featuring some material hoisted above the river, it is really more like a heavy industrial operation that will span years and leave permanent scars on the land.

“Christo has been able to work the system,” Harris said. “He’s been able to convince people that this is just a two-week period that will be so beneficial for the people of Colorado.”





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  1. Dolores Teter says:

    Dear All:

    I have been fighting this in my own small way since its inception. How can I help you ? Donate small amount of money? What? I was enraged when this was approved. Why? What’s money got to do with it? What is the benefit to anyone except they make money or gain some political power.

  2. Mary A. Cole says:

    I am outraged! This is senseless. I pray that these young lawyers succeed at stopping this assault on nature.

  3. I’m ashamed of my Alma Matter for fighting this.

      • I don’t ncaesserily have anything much against the guy. I can appreciate art and I was intrigued by some of his work. I saw The Gates in Central Park when it was there, and it was interesting. As a whole, his work is enormous and sort of puts perspective on things manmade things. Where I disagree with him is his attempts to improve the natural world with his art. The natural world’s beauty is perfect, IMHO, and doesn’t need his hand to make it better or more artistic. For the the thousands of people who are sure to come to see this thing, it will be their first time in Big Horn Sheep Canyon, seeing that river, and their first impressions of the river will be filled with cloth. That’s just not cool.

    • Cavs, Christo has been sitteng up these so-called art installments for decades. Decades! Almost half a century! That kind of flabbergasts me when thinking of it in reference to Christo’s art. I’m not even remotely a fan of Christo, but my money’s on him and the Sierra Club doing this stupid ridiculous project. Personally, I think the money wasted on sitteng up such a temporary thing could be put to much better use by, oh, I don’t know, donating it to environmental groups.

  4. As a DU advanced degree grad (’65) I’m disappointed The Environmental Law Clinic is joining forces with ROAR in an attempt to further lengthen the disagreement over Christo’s worthy project.
    It not about making money or political power. Its about artistic expression. The University of Denver’s law clinic can surely find causes more worthy of its time and talent.

    • Magge Ericson,MAS says:

      Mr. Hite:

      Artistic expression maybe what Christo started out to do in his earlyn works, now it is grandstanding for his investors benefit only. Where is the clean water act, how about, noise pollution,I don’t think you live in the area, I lived along the Arkansas, it is a national trasure with its many ecosystems. If there is damage to private land structures, who pays for that? BLM is known for weak administration, look at the leases it has allowed in the Western states on sensitive ecosystems. No this is really showing the how we have embraced greed in our culture. Fragmentation of the ecosystems will be a forever, lost for someone’s ego and government misstep. As my European friends ask “Why do US folks have to conquer everything including the environment?”

  5. I love art from the primitives, to classical to edgy surrealists and contemporary. In my opinion, Christo’s follies are anything but art. I don’t accept his intellectualizations to justify it. What a waste of resources. There is great art in the natural beauty of our land. It needs no enhancement. Put me in the same camp with John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt.

    I have not read the complaint, but hope it is well founded, well drafted, competently litigated and successful. Good luck.

  6. Kathleen Spring says:

    DU is also my Alma Matter and I teach as adjunct faculty at Lamont. I am PROUD of what these students are doing. I am not anti-art, even far out, abstract, you name it. My daughter is an artist, but this seems like a giant waste, dangerous to the environment, and serving only Christo’s ego.

  7. MaeLin Levine says:

    As an alumna, I’m disappointed that the school and the publications team choose to celebrate this fight. I think the Christo project has been thoroughly vetted and approved by authoritative agencies and it would be nice to hear in these publications about projects and people creating rather than stopping creative expression. Not sure why we aren’t seeing or hearing from the other side of campus, School of Art? Do we really need more law suits in this country?

  8. Stan Mikelson says:

    I fully support the effort to stop the so called Art Project. It is nothing but a waste of money. It most certainly will
    do nothing but satisfy Christo’s ego. The BLM members that approved this should be replaced. Good Luck DU Law students.

  9. Christo and Jean Claude have a long history of innovative, short-term artistic endeavors that add hugely to the economies of the areas of their location. I am pleased, and proud that Colorado has been selected for, most likely, the final exhibition creation of this dynamic duo. This act will nicely bookend their spectacular, but short lived, curtain at Rifle Gap.

    That the Environmental Law department is just now jumping into this fray, long after the Federal EPA and state regulatory agencies have approved this project reeks of self-promotion and grandstanding efforts on the part of the students and their professors. While I am generally supportive of anything that enhances the noteriety and prestige of DU. This effort is an embarrassment in concept and has potential to be a liability in reputation to DU. It is the issue of timing and the timing here is wrong.

    • Nope, it’s not the go ahead, it’s atenhor step in the process, and will be almost certainly be challenged. They haven’t made an ROD (record of decision) and there’s atenhor public review before that happens. The lawsuit against the parks board for not following their own rules and ignoring the AHRA management plan in it’s entirety, can stop it too. They don’t have CDOT approval, they don’t have approval to use the railroad, there are a lot of hoops to jump thru, and a lot of places to stop it.

    • Charles Rollman says:

      From the perspective of a Colorado citizen who is neither a lawyer nor a DU alumnus…

      As long as the foul deed has not yet been done, the timing is right.
      Any method that stops Christo’s idiocy is a good method.

  10. M. H. Rudolph says:

    Very sorry to hear it. Agree with R.E. Brown that the timing is wrong.

  11. Nicholas Cortese says:

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion!!!! Mine is that this project
    location is Absulute IDIOCY…. There are places for ??art??,
    but in the Big Horn Sheep Canyon, along HYWY 50???

  12. Charles Rollman says:

    Recent polls in the Colorado Springs Gazette, in the Canon City Daily Record, and on line at, show that the public is overwhelmingly against Christo’s Over The River. Christo has gotten this far only because he has deep pockets and has a sophisticated and well financed PR machine that has lobbied our political leaders and business community. Hooray for these law students for giving a voice and credibility to the public!!

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