After years of debate, federal regulators with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have approved artist Christo's long-in-the-works "Over the River" project, which will cover portions of the Arkansas River in Colorado with 5.9 miles of "silvery, luminous fabric panels."


The $50 million art installation, which Christo and his late wife first announced in 1992, has been heavily criticized for its potential environmental impact. In May, the Colorado Wildlife Commission urged federal regulators to reject the proposal, saying it could potentially harm bighorn sheep in the area. The BLM told the Wall Street Journal its approval of the project requires Christo to take more than 100 measures to protect the river's ecology and local towns.


"Over the River" is being privately funded through the sale of Christo's preparatory drawings. Previous assessments anticipated that the project could generate more than $120 million in tourism revenue for Colorado. "Drawing visitors to Colorado to see this work will support jobs in the tourism industry and bring attention to the tremendous outdoor recreation opportunities," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Monday when announcing the project's approval. "We believe that steps have been taken to mitigate the environmental effects of this one-of-a-kind project." Salazar joined Christo at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday when the artist donated two preparatory collages from the project to the gallery.


Christo, now age 76, told the New York Times he is happy that "Over the River" has already generated so much discussion. "Every artist in the world likes his or her work to make people think. Imagine how many people were thinking, how many professionals were thinking and writing in preparing that environmental impact statement." He told the Denver Post, "This is the first time in history that a work of art had an Environmental Impact Statement — an enormous feat ... that a work of art led to so much thought."


Construction for "Over the River," which still requires local permits, could start next year and will last more than a year. The official two-week display of the art installation is planned for August 2014. Christo's collages will be on display at the National Gallery's East Building Auditorium until Jan. 12, 2012.


Below, Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, discuss the genesis of the project in this video from 2008:



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Christo's $50 million 'Over the River' art project approved
The controversial installation will cover sections of the Arkansas River with miles of silver fabric.