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Boulder-area Lawmakers Sign on to Letter Seeking Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Shutdown

November 16, 2018

Don Wollenzin of Arvada biking at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on Sept. 15, which opened to the public that day, despite a federal lawsuit aimed at keeping the public off the land due to concerns over possible plutonium contamination.

A letter sent Thursday to the Department of Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed by area legislators, school board members, many individuals and more than two dozen advocacy groups from across Colorado and beyond, demands an immediate halt to public recreation at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

The letter to Carmelo Melendez, director of the Office of Legacy Management at the DOE and to Cynthia Martinez, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, cited residual contamination from decades of plutonium bomb trigger production at the site located just south of Boulder.

The letter states, in part, that the refuge “is located on the previous buffer zone of the Rocky Flats Plant (1952-1989), which produced 70,000 weapons-grade plutonium pits for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. Activities at the plant led to contaminated soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water due to accidental leakages and serious fires in 1957 and 1969, emitting plutonium into the air.”

It also cites Dr. Mark Johnson, executive director at Jefferson County Public Health, who had previously stated he thinks it is unwise to open Rocky Flats to the public.

Those signing the letter include Colorado State Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, Colorado House Majority Leader KC Becker — both of Boulder — state Reps. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, and Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, several local school board members, as well as groups including Beyond Nuclear of Tacoma Park, Md., Physicians for Social Responsibility of Kansas City, Mo., the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation of Santa Barbara, Calif., and a host of advocacy groups from within the state.

Primary signatories to the letter are Christopher Allred and Brittany Gutermuth of the Boulder-based Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center also is fighting the refuge opening in federal court.

That group, as well as Candelas Glows, Rocky Flats Right to Know, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association and Environmental Information Network — which all signed on to Thursday’s letter — on May 1 filed a lawsuit at U.S. District Court in Denver to block the opening, after having had a similar lawsuit dismissed by a judge in September 2017.

A federal judge on Aug. 9 denied a request by plaintiffs in that case for a preliminary injunction , which sought to keep the refuge — which encircles the site of a $7.7 billion Superfund cleanup — closed until more study can be completed on the possible risks associated with opening trails on land surrounding the notorious former nuclear weapons plant.

Randall Weiner, the Boulder attorney representing the plaintiffs in that suit said Thursday that “we are awaiting the judge’s final ruling on whether the law requires a review of putting trails over plutonium contaminated property, and we hope the judge will close the refuge as part of his ruling.

“Earlier this summer, the judge decided the groups had not met the high bar to keep the refuge closed until the judge reached his decision. Now he is making his decision, and we expect it to be reached in the coming months.”

Weiner also said, “Most people don’t realize the $7 billion spent on the Rocky Flats cleanup was not used at all on the land where the refuge is located.”

In a statement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it “is committed to offering public access to the lands and waters it manages for the American people. We opened Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to unguided public access on designated trails in September 2018 because we are confident in the conclusions and recommendations of state and federal public health experts indicating that the area is safe for public use. The refuge provides year-round outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, bicycling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and horseback riding.”

Representatives of the DOE could not be reached for comment Thursday on the letter, which also states that seven school districts have made commitments not to allow field trips to the refuge, “protecting 300,000 students from contamination.”

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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