Calling it the “last and best chance to close this refuge,” a group opposed to the use of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons manufacturing site as a wildlife refuge open to hikers and cyclists took their case to court. federal appeals court Friday.
The lawsuit, filed by the Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center along with several neighborhood groups, seeks to overturn U.S. District Court Chief Justice Philip A. Brimmer’s July ruling to dismiss the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“My clients do not believe that the significant environmental issues related to residual plutonium contamination at Rocky Flats have been properly addressed by Fish and Wildlife,” lawyer Randall Weiner said Friday.
Specifically, the appeal indicates that the federal agency failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by opening of the refuge to the public three years ago and build a network of trails there. He quotes a 2011 email from a former Rocky Flats manager suggesting that the public trails on the east side of the property avoid the “plutonium plume” in the leeward portion of the refuge.
The plaintiffs also claim that part of the property where the trails will be located was only purchased in 2012 and has never been assessed for radioactive contamination. Claire O’Brien, administrator of the Peace & Justice Center in Boulder, said it was “dangerous for people to recreate there”.
“It is not safe to have plutonium levels that could affect people, children and dogs,” she said.
Dave Lucas, refuge manager for Rocky Flats, said Fish and Wildlife could not comment on the ongoing litigation.
There are 11 miles of trails to the refuge, where for more than 40 years nuclear warhead triggers were assembled before the weapons factory was raided by federal agents in 1989 and closed a few years later. . It took a decade and $ 7 billion to clean the inner core of the 5,200-acre refuge north of Arvada, which was steeped in chemical contaminants from years of bomb making.
This 1,300-acre inner core, known as the Central Operational Unit, remains closed to the public indefinitely.
Rocky Flats made headlines in 2019 when a plutonium hot spot has been detected on the east side from the shelter along the Indiana Street fence. The soil sample had a reading of 264 picocuries per gram of soil, a level five times higher than the standard set by the federal government at the time Rocky Flats was cleaned.
But dozens of other soil samples taken from the same area, as well as other parts of the refuge, have all tested well within acceptable risk thresholds defined by the government for the deadly substance. Rocky Flats is home to 239 migratory and resident wildlife species, including prairie hawks, deer, elk, coyotes, songbirds, and the endangered Preble Meadow Jumping Mouse.
Critics of Rocky Flats haven’t had much of a chance to fight the refuge since it opened to the public.
Just two months ago, another federal judge dismissed a lawsuit the city of Superior had filed with similar complaints about a lack of consideration of environmental concerns at the site. Last week Superior said he would not appeal this decision, according to an article in the Daily Camera.
Last summer a judge refused an emergency motion designed to prevent Boulder from contributing money to the construction of an underpass connecting the Boulder and Boulder County trails with trails in the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge – part of the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail that will eventually connect several Wildlife sanctuaries on the Front Range, including two Ponds, Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Flats, along with Rocky Mountain National Park.
There is no visitor center at Rocky Flats yet, and Lucas said there is no specific date for the construction of one.