Anything other than Artwork
The BLM’s permit process is theoretically straightforward: You tell them what you want to do, and explain how you’re going to build what you want to build. Importantly, you detail what impact it could have on the environment in accordance with the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), with the length and thoroughness of that impact report varying based on the project and where it is located.
Unfortunately, that permitting process was designed for “anything other than artwork,” said Sylvia Harrison, the environmental and natural resource lawyer who worked with the museum on the project pro bono.
Sandra Fairchild, the environmental consultant brought on as the sculpture’s project manager, found that out the hard way. Fairchild is used to working on transmission lines, solar facilities, natural gas operations, “utility-scale type of infrastructure,” she said, such as a solar project that involved scraping and clearing 2,500 acres of federal land and took the BLM two years to permit.
By comparison, Rondinone’s sculpture is a non-invasive work using three acres of federal land. So when Fairchild got the call about getting the project through the BLM in March of 2013, while vacationing on a Hawaiian beach, she thought the permitting and approval would take “no time at all.”
Instead, it took roughly three years. Why? The BLM could rely on executive orders and pages of regulations that addressed the construction of solar arrays. But they had little guidance on how to address the proposal for Seven Magic Mountains.