The outdoor art installation would involve suspending translucent, wind-rippled fabric panels, along a 40-mile (62-kilometer) stretch of the Arkansas River in Colorado. The panels would total 5.9 miles (9.4 kilometers), according to Christo's website. The massive work—if approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management this spring—will take more than two years to construct and will be shown for two weeks in the summer of 2014.
Christo's team has taken steps to minimize these impacts, according to a statement on Christo's website. "The construction and viewing periods have been carefully scheduled around breeding and nesting seasons," the statement said.
"As an added precaution, construction buffer zones will be created near potentially active [falcon] nests and around designated sheep areas."
Photograph by Matt Slaby, Luceo
Drape Over Troubled Water?
In an artist's illustration, fabric panels drape over metal beams that span the width of the river.
Opponents disagree with Christo's assurances that the project's effects on the environment will be temporary.
"While true that the actual exhibit is only for two weeks, the process to construct, assemble, and remove the structure would take two and a half years or more—leaving behind 9,100 steel rock anchors permanently implanted in the canyon walls," said Carol Neville, a member of ROAR.
"This extended time frame will create adverse impacts that will linger for years afterward."
Photograph by Jason Miller, AP
Christo signs a poster depicting the potential "Over the River" project in this undated photograph.
Environmental concerns aside, opponents also say the project could negatively impact the local economy by causing increased traffic and lane closures along the stretch of Highway 50 that runs through the region.
Christo's team said that construction will take place only during non-summer months, when traffic is relatively light.
But ROAR's Neville, a local fly-fishing guide, said that strategy won't be enough to save many businesses.
"Fall and spring make up two thirds of our year in terms of when we make our income," Neville said.
"If we have to stop for those traffic delays—even if it's only five minutes in each direction—we won't be able to fit all the [tourist] shuttles in a day. We barely make it as it is. You add that in there, and we can't do it."
An overhead view of Christo's past installation "The Wall" is seen during a press preview at the Oberhausen Gasometer arts center in Berlin in April 1999.
For "The Wall," Christo and his team stacked 13,000 empty, painted oil barrels to create a wall that measured 85 feet (26 meters) high and 223 feet (68 meters) wide.
Photograph by Edgar Schoepal, AP
Sold Down the River?
Rafters and recreationists gather along a stretch of Colorado's Arkansas River that could soon be the site of an art project by U.S. artist Christo. (See more river pictures.)
The project's opponents point out that traffic delays caused by the project's construction could affect the ability of health and emergency personnel to provide medical aid to local residents.
"The health industry is extremely concerned," ROAR's Neville said. "We have people that live off of the main road, and they're homebound. They can't go to the doctor's to get health care. Every two or three days, they have to have blood counts and other very specific treatments."
Christo's team has said it's willing to "provide ambulance and helicopter services to help expedite emergency-response times" during the project's two-week exhibition period in 2014.
Photograph by Matt Slaby, Luceo
"Over the River" Observer
A visitor looks at a drawing of Christo's upcoming "Over the River" project during a 2009 press conference in Switzerland.
The river-protection group's Neville and other opponents of the project are concerned that their stretch of the Arkansas River will create long-term damage to the environment and to residents' way of life.
"This river corridor is like a national model for blending wildlife and human habitation together, and it works," Neville said. "But it's a balance.
"Something like this coming in can tip it over and it will never be the same again. It won't be a temporary effect, and this won't be a temporary exhibit. It will have years and years—maybe even decades—of effects afterward."