Miami-Dade County

1983: Deal seals island art project in the pink

This story from the Miami Herald's archives appeared on March 19, 1983.

Handshakes and signatures Friday night settled it at long, tedious last: 5.5 million square feet of pink plastic fabric will surround 11 Biscayne Bay islands as a work of art for two weeks in May.

Wildlife paramedic Jack Kassewitz Jr., who sued to stop artist Christo Javacheff from doing his "Surrounded Islands" project, instead will act as an official watchdog for the U.S. District Court.

From a skiff rented by Javacheff -- best known as Christo -- it will be Kassewitz's duty to stick up for the personal safety and peace of mind of every eagle, osprey, pelican, heron, egret, ibis, gull, tern, skimmer, cormorant, merganser, grebe, kingfisher, kingbird, black-whiskered and white-eyed vireo and not least the mangrove cuckoo and 53 other bird species abiding, dining or merely passing through the islands, in flight or at rest.

The same goes for manatees, turtles, fish and every other child of nature thereabouts. U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King, who had persuaded the antagonists to negotiate, spoke well of both and the attorneys who represented them and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dade County, whose issuance of permits for the project were technical targets of the Kassewitz lawsuit.

The judge was greatly pleased, and so declared.

"Mr. Kassewitz, you have a very attractive, dramatic signature," he said, making sure to compliment Christo's as well.

For 10 hours in the federal courthouse Friday, following six hours Thursday, the zealous artist and the zealous environmentalist stood at flowing and ebbing loggerheads while attorneys negotiated their dispute.

"I can't compromise my principles," Kassewitz said Friday morning. He declared an intent to end the settlement talks and let Judge King choose a winner and a loser. His attorney, Douglas Solomon, talked Kassewitz out of it. Christo then made an offer forming the basis for an agreement finally signed at 6:45 p.m.

Just before it was read into the record by the judge, Kassewitz ambled across the courtroom to Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude. They shook hands.

Under the agreement, signed in blue ink with a green pen, Kassewitz was authorized by the court "to observe and monitor the progress of the Surrounded Islands project ... with leave to report in writing directly to this court any observed circumstance which appears to him to comprise a threat to endangered species ... or other wildlife, or any actual casualty appearing to be caused by the installation ... in the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve."

Christo said he plans to begin hauling plastic on the night of May 2.

Any time Kassewitz thinks the setting up, exhibition or dismantling of the display endangers any creature or its habitat, Judge King will settle any disagreement.

After the islands are undraped, a panel of qualified scientists will be appointed to inspect the territory for a year -- two years if they think it necessary. If they find damage that can be repaired by spending money, Christo is obliged to spend as much as $100,000 of it.

If there is damage that cannot be repaired that way, Christo will have to donate two large artworks worth at least $36,000 each for public display in Dade County.

After two years, the county could sell the art to finance a trust fund for improvement of the bay.

"I truly hope this is going to be the most outstanding and magnificent work of art. I really wish this for you," the judge told Christo. "Mr. Kassewitz, it must be lonely at times, being the only voice in the community to step forward... but a lot of people out there appreciate what you do."