Opponents ask federal appeals court to throw out permission for Christo's Over the River work

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DENVER — Residents fighting the artist Christo's dream of draping fabric over the Arkansas River in southern Colorado asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to throw out permission for the artwork it considers an "industrial scale project" that could harm wildlife, the river and people who live along the winding canyon.

The Bureau of Land Management signed off on the Over the River project, which calls for 6 miles of translucent fabric panels to be installed along 42 miles of the river between Canon City and Salida. The work would take about two years to install and would be on display for two weeks, when it's expected to attract thousands of people along the highway that parallels the river as well as rafters and kayakers in the river.

The lawyer for the opponents group, Michael Harris, told a three-judge panel at the 10th District Court of Appeals that the BLM violated its own plans for protecting what has been designated as an environmentally sensitive area in approving a project that would require thousands of holes and anchor pads to be drilled in the canyon.

The agency's lawyer, Vivian Wong, acknowledged that BLM's analysis found the project could have a moderate impact on bighorn sheep but said Christo would be required to provide monitoring of the animals and other kinds of mitigation to compensate for possible impacts from the installation. She also said the project would draw visitors to enjoy the area, which prompted Judge Scott Matheson to wonder what the BLM would do if the NFL proposed holding a game in the canyon or if Taylor Swift wanted to perform there.

The case is the last pending legal hurdle facing Christo's project, which he and his late wife Jeanne-Claude first proposed in 1996.

The judges aren't expected to issue a ruling for months.

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