Rocky Flats subject to another lawsuit over safety

Citizen groups file petition to unseal Rocky Flats records from 1989-1992 Grand Jury investigation

Posted 1/15/19

With two lawsuits pending, seven citizen groups are bringing a new legal suit to try and unseal 30-year-old documents about the troublesome Rocky Flats. Represented by Pat Mellen, a Denver-based …

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Rocky Flats subject to another lawsuit over safety

Citizen groups file petition to unseal Rocky Flats records from 1989-1992 Grand Jury investigation

Posted

With two lawsuits pending, seven citizen groups are bringing a new legal suit to try and unseal 30-year-old documents about the troublesome Rocky Flats.

Represented by Pat Mellen, a Denver-based environmental attorney, the citizen groups filed a legal petition in U.S. District Court on Jan. 10 to unseal records from the 1989-1992 Special Federal Grand Jury investigation into criminal actions at Rocky Flats, a former nuclear weapons manufacturing plant.

“This is not your average parcel of land. It’s not clean,” Mellen said during a Jan. 10 press conference. “It is our goal to keep the information in front of the public, in front of the decision-makers, in front of the courts to make sure that a greenwashing of the site doesn’t happen.”

Rocky Flats is a 5,000-acre area of undeveloped land bordered by Broomfield, Boulder and Jefferson counties managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It operated as a nuclear weapons plant from 1952 until 1989, when the FBI raided Rocky Flats to investigate allegations of environmental violations.

A news release from the Law Offices of Pat Mellen states that the sealed records include the investigation into Rocky Flat’s former managing contractor, Rockwell International, which paid an $18.5 million fine following a guilty plea to 10 federal environmental law violations.

The goal of the petition is to gain “evidence of unreported and unaddressed residual plutonium contamination and other ongoing environmental dangers at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge,” the news release states.

This information would potentially help resolve policy controversies concerning five immediate threats happening in the proximate vicinity of Rocky Flats, Mellen said during the press conference on Jan. 10.

The five threats are: build-out of the trail system at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, construction of a visitors’ center at the refuge, the eventual plan to make the trails at Rocky Flats an extension of the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail, concern that construction of the Jefferson Parkway for the portion just east of Rocky Flats would disturb contaminated dirt and fracking and drilling permits under Rocky Flats.

In addition, “the documents could assist Rocky Flats nuclear workers with their unique compensation claims and the concerns of residents living downwind of Rocky Flats,” according to Jon Lipsky, a former FBI Special Agent who led the raid at Rocky Flats.

Decommissioning of Rocky Flats as a nuclear weapons plant happened in 1992 and a few years later, a $7 billion cleanup effort began.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ended its cleanup in June 2007 and that same year, Rocky Flats was taken off the national superfund list and the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established. It opened to the public on Sept. 15, 2018, but a fenced-off core area of the old factory grounds will remain off-limits in perpetuity due to contamination.

Community groups continue to dispute that the wildlife refuge and surrounding lands do not pose a risk to public health and safety.

“It begins with the soil,” said Ted Ziegler during the press conference. Ziegler is a former United Steelworkers of America safety representative who worked at Rocky Flats from March 1982 to June 1995. “That’s where the contamination is. It reaches the surface no matter what we do to try to appropriately avoid it.”

The petitioners are the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups, Rocky Flats Downwinders, Candelas Glows/Rocky Flats Glows, Environmental Information Network, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, Rocky Flats Right to Know and the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The petitioners argue that the Grand Jury records can and should be unsealed when the information is relevant to pending or potential litigation. If the grand jury records are unsealed, they cannot directly affect the two ongoing lawsuits, Mellen said, but they could affect future lawsuits.

The case has been assigned a judge, and Mellen is hopeful for a hearing to come within the next three months, she said at the press conference. However, it is unknown how the current government shutdown will affect the timing, she added.

Meanwhile, two other lawsuits against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are still pending in federal court. The plaintiffs — five citizen groups being represented by Boulder-based environmental attorney Randall Weiner, filed suit in May, and the Town of Superior which filed suit in July — argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in planning to build public trails and a visitor center at on the national wildlife refuge land.

“It’s time for the public to know what the Grand Jury knows,” said Tiffany Hansen, co-founder and director of Rocky Flats Downwinders. “We will not rest until the truth is revealed.”

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