Rocky Flats trails to open while lawsuit still pending

Plaintiffs hope to close the refuge because of risks to plutonium exposure

Posted 9/12/18

Anybody who wants to visit the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge will now be able to. About 10 miles of trails on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge are opening to the general public this …

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Rocky Flats trails to open while lawsuit still pending

Plaintiffs hope to close the refuge because of risks to plutonium exposure

Posted

Anybody who wants to visit the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge will now be able to.

About 10 miles of trails on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge are opening to the general public this Saturday, allowing for hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and other recreational opportunities.

The refuge is a 5,000-acre area of open land bordered by Broomfield, Boulder and Jefferson counties managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is “confident in the conclusions and recommendations from public health experts at the state and federal levels indicating that the refuge is safe for visitors, our employees and surrounding communities,” said a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region in an email conversation late August.

Citizens' organizations protesting the opening of the refuge disagree. They argue it's unsafe to allow all recreational activities on the refuge given Rocky Flats' history as a Cold War nuclear weapon component plant.

“The EPA needs to revisit their risk assessment exposure standards for the area, focusing on public health and the inhalation risks of alpha radiation from plutonium,” said Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, founder of opposition group Candelas Glows, in a press release.

Community groups have sued to prevent the opening of the refuge. On Aug. 9, U.S. District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer chose not to grant preliminary injunction that would have blocked trail construction on the refuge. For this, the plaintiff organizations — Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, Rock Flats Right to Know, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association and Environmental Information Network — had to prove irreparable harm.

“Unfortunately, plaintiffs were not able to meet the high bar to win a preliminary injunction that would have kept the refuge closed until the legal process was complete,” Weiner said. “But the main portion of the grassroots activists' case continues to move forward. If the judge rules in our favor, the refuge can be closed.”

He adds that briefs are due in a week, and hoping for a prompt ruling.

The refuge attractions include picturesque views and vast opportunities for viewing wildlife and diverse plants. Nearly 240 migratory and resident wildlife species inhabit Rocky Flats and about 630 different plant species can be found there.

During the Cold War, it was one of 13 nuclear weapons plants in the U.S. and served as the primary manufacturer of trigger mechanisms, produced from various radioactive and hazardous materials including beryllium and plutonium.

The site operated as a nuclear weapons plant from 1952 until 1989 when the FBI raided Rocky Flats to investigate allegations of environmental violations. Decommissioning of the plant happened in 1992 and a few years later, a decade-long, $7-billion cleanup effort began.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ended its cleanup in June 2007 and that same year Rocky Flats was taken off the national superfund list. The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established in 2007, although a fenced-off core area of the old factory grounds remains off-limits due to contamination.

Candelas Glows Candelas Glows, a citizen group consisting of residents neighboring Rocky Flats, and other activist groups “would like to see the EPA … come forward to keep the refuge closed to humans in the interest of public health."

There are plans to eventually make the trails within Rocky Flats as an extension of the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail — a trail network that currently connects Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City and Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge in Arvada to the Great Western Open Space in Broomfield and is proposed to extend to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. Well-established Boulder county open space trails to the north of the refuge would also potentially tie into the new trails.

In June 2015, refuge staff began offering monthly guided wildlife tours. As of late August, an estimated 1,200 people have since visited Rocky Flats.

Many of the refuge's trails make use of existing road alignments. About 20 miles of trail are anticipated to be built at Rocky Flats. A visitor’s center is also planned for the refuge, but it may not be built for another few years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that it “does not have any major construction planned anywhere on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for 2018.”The spokesman added that “ongoing future activities will include maintenance, work on a parking area and installing signs.” 

Jon Lipsky, a former FBI special agent who led the 1989 raid, refers to Rocky Flats as a place of indecent exposure.

“Use the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge at your own risk," Lipsky said. "And please do not bump into the Superfund site in the middle of the refuge.”

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