Citizens Task Force Votes 7-1 Against Chrito's Over the River
At its meeting in Salida on October 27, the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area's Citizens Task Force (CTF) overwhelmingly opposed Christo's "Over the River" project in a 7 to 1 vote.
The CTF is a committee comprised of stakeholders who represent constituencies with various interests in the management of the Arkansas River, and it advises AHRA managers. Their discussion of the OTR project included the final Environmental Impact Statement's prediction of catastrophic loss of revenue for the local fishing guides and angling related industries, the project's location in a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern, and its questionable economic benefits to the region.
Private boaters, environmental groups, and wildlife representatives also weighed in with their concerns about the numerous negative impacts of the OTR project. Of particular concern were items contained in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Colorado State Parks board and Christo Javacheff's OTR Corporation that allow the corporation to regulate both private boaters and the commercial rafting industry by "rationing" the number of boats allowed down the river. Questionable engineering was also discussed, as several of Christo's earlier projects have failed, resulting in at least one fatality.
Fred Rasmussen, CTF angler representative, raised concern that in the FEIS the Colorado Department of Transportation stated that it intends to restrict pedestrian traffic in areas that are commonly used by fishermen, hunters, tourists and others. He also recalled that CDOT told the BLM Resource Advisory Council that this project should not be held in the summer months because it could shut down all the highways leading into the area. When questioned about these issues, Rob White, with the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, could only remark "Those plans are yet to be developed".
In 2006 the CTF had been urged not to take a vote on the multi-year OTR construction project until after the final EIS was issued, so that the findings could be reviewed and analyzed prior to consideration. This advice directly contradicts the action of the Colorado State Parks board, which voted to approve the MOA before the final EIS was released. The Colorado State Parks board is currently the defendant in litigation related to its approval of the MOA.
Members of the audience who spoke included Bruce Goforth, retired Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist, who noted the Colorado Wildlife Commission's decision not only to oppose OTR but to recommend that no other permitting agency approve OTR due to its significant and long term impacts; Greg Felt, co-owner of Arkanglers, who gave an impassioned plea to the CTF to stop this project; and Dr. Ellen Bauder, ROAR Incorporated vice president for science, who encouraged the CTF to consider the sustainable economic benefit of the existing businesses and the countless devastating effects of OTR on the river, wildlife, future recreational use and the carefully crafted multi-agency management plan.