Quick N' Dirty

‘Over the River’ moves forward
Christo is one step closer to the nearby Arkansas River. “Over the River,” the landscape artwork proposed by the renowned conceptual artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude, gained ground this week when the Colorado State Land Board approved two leases for the controversial project.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude first hatched the idea for “Over the River” in 1985. Inspired by their wrapped project on the Pont Neuf, a historic bridge in Paris, they decided to create a work that showcased the interplay between light and water. After examining 89 prospective sites around the world, they narrowed the search to six. In the end, a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Salida and Cañon City­­­ met all of their criteria – a river with steep, treeless walls, good views, easy access and an adjacent railroad track. Christo hopes to suspend miles of silvery, luminous fabric panels high above the water along the stretch.

“Suddenly, it was very much like a symphony,” Christo has said of the choice to bring the project to Colorado.

However, there has been plenty of dischord in the aftermath of that initial decision. “Over the River” has been in the works since the mid-’90s, and opposition to the project has been vocal since the beginning. Colorado Trout Unlimited has outlined concerns that the piece will lead to impacts on the fishery and harm the river’s water quality. Several groups have alleged that wildlife will be unnecessarily impacted by the installation. And others have been more outspoken. A group called Rags Over the Arkansas River has compared the piece to “a beautiful daughter sold into prostitution” and “hanging pornography in a church.”

Christo does not deny that the project will have impacts. He estimates that 250,000 people will visit “Over the River” during its two-week lifespan and admits that road closures and traffic along U.S. Hwy. 50 will be givens. The artist has also come to the table with a variety of steps to mitigate concerns, ranging from traffic control to additional ambulance and helicopter services. In addition, “Over the River” is expected to have a beneficial economic impact on the Salida region and should generate $121 million in local revenues if/when it is built.

This week, “Over the River” came closer to realization when the Colorado State Board smiled on the embattled art installation and approved two leases – a 5-year lease covering 7.7 acres and a 10-year lease covering 130 acres. The agreements will allow the artist to conduct construction work and enhance a bighorn sheep wildlife corridor once the installation is complete. The leases will also generate income for the school trust and benefit K-12 schools in Colorado.

Now, Christo and “Over the River” are looking to the Bureau of Land Management for a final nod. In July, the agency released a preferred alternative that would allow Christo to build eight panel segments totaling 5.9 miles over a 42-mile stretch of the river. After several months gathering public input, the BLM is expected to issue a final Record of Decision approving or rejecting Christo’s application this fall. Should the agency smile on Christo and “Over the River,” construction will begin in 2012 and the installation will be unveiled for a two-week display in the summer of 2014.

Center of SW Studies marks 10 years
Fort Lewis College passes another milestone this week. The Center of Southwest Studies – the first research center to focus exclusively on the Southwest – celebrates its 10th anniversary on Thurs., Oct. 13. A public open house and celebration meets from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

The 50,000-square-foot Center of Southwest Studies opened its doors in 2001. It houses the Center’s museum/gallery space and the summer solstice window; the Delaney Southwest Research Library and archival collections; an auditorium for public lectures; the Departments of Anthropology and Native American and Indigenous Studies; and the Office of Community Services. The building was in part funded by the local community, under the leadership of the late Morley Ballantine, who chaired the campaign and was the founding donor of the center. Fort Lewis and Ballantine had long envisioned the center as a repository for artifacts, resource materials, books, records and documents that could be used for research of the history and development of the Southwestern United States.

The Center of Southwest Studies collections include the famed Durango Collection, which holds old and rare textiles spanning eight centuries. Other collections consist of Native American basketry, contemporary Southwestern art, Ancestral Puebloan ceramics, historic maps and photographs, rare books and ephemera, microfilm and manuscripts – including personal papers of Congressional and state leaders, and some civic records.

Westendorff announces her candidacy
The 2012 race for La Plata County commissioner has already left the gate. Julie Westendorff will run as a Democrat for District 3, a position currently held by Wally White. White is unable to run for re-election due to term limits.

Westendorff has lived in La Plata County for 16 years and has served as the Bayfield Magistrate and the Southern Ute Tribal Prosecutor. In addition, she has been involved with the Community Corrections Screening Committee, Alternative Horizons Legal Project, Humane Society Board of Directors, and Daybreak Rotary. She is currently self-employed as an attorney and real estate broker.

Westendorff said she believes that she can bring clear-minded, nonideological leadership to county government. “I want to be a voice of sensibility that keeps our community moving forward to achieve good results,” she said.

Durango scores the Broncos broadcast
Durango’s days of Denver Broncos deprivation are temporarily at an end. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has successfully negotiated a deal with KRQE-TV, the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, to show the games this season.

Because Four Corners residents are part of the Albuquerque TV market, Broncos games are occasionally preempted by coverage of the Dallas Cowboys. Udall wanted to find a temporary solution for this season while he continued to work with Colorado lawmakers to find a permanent solution.  

“This is only a temporary and partial solution to the bigger problem, but this is really good news for Broncos fans in the Four Corners,” Udall said. The Senator added that he will continue to press for Denver news, programming and safety information for Southwest Colorado residents.
– Will Sands