A U.S. District Court judge presiding over the case concerning the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge did not grant a preliminary injunction that would have blocked trail construction on the refuge …
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A U.S. District Court judge presiding over the case concerning the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge did not grant a preliminary injunction that would have blocked trail construction on the refuge during an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Judge Philip A. Brimmer made his ruling on the preliminary injunction on Aug. 9. The hearing took place on July 17.
The preliminary injunction would have possibly allowed time for additional environmental testing on plutonium levels and postponed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed opening date of Sept. 15.
To have been granted the preliminary injunction, 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.
Although he “ruled that we did not reach the high standard necessary to win a preliminary injunction … the judge acknowledged plaintiffs’ concerns about `the very small, but nonetheless non-zero, risk resulting from exposure to even minute quantities of radioactive materials,’ and (that) trail use will produce some additional windblown dust,” said Randall Weiner, the environmental attorney arguing the case for the plaintiff organizations, in a press release from his Boulder-based law offices.
Rocky Flats National Wildlife 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 refuge was initally scheduled to open up this summer.
During the Cold War, Rocky Flats 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. It was designated a superfund clean-up site in September of that year. 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) certified the 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 core area of the old factory grounds remains off-limits due to contaimination. .
“We’re confident in the cleanup and remediation,” said Michael D’Agostino, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region, in a previous interview. He added that the Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to work closely with the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE). “We continue to be confident in their conclusions and recommendations. They are the public health experts.”
The plaintiff organizations in the lawsuit argue that ideally, the refuge wouldn’t ever open to the public. Their argument is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated environmental laws by opening the refuge to unlimited public access prematurely.
The lawsuit is currently in the process of preparing for trial and further court proceedings are expected to happen in September.
“Our case will clearly demonstrate that the government does not have an up-to-date assessment of risks to the environment and human health” at Rocky Flats, Weiner said in the press release. “Plaintiffs hope to … show the court that the federal government violated the laws it was required to follow, and thus convince the judge to close the refuge soon after it opens.”
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