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Advocacy Groups File Petition to Unseal Nearly 30-year-old Grand Jury Records on Rocky Flats

January 11, 2019
Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge on May 1, 2018 in Golden.

Community groups have filed a petition asking the federal government to unseal almost 30-year-old grand jury documents against a former nuclear weapons plant, now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and Superfund site.

Seven community groups are asking a U.S. District Court to release the investigative records from a 1989-1992 grand jury investigation into criminal conduct by the plant’s managing contractor at the time because of environmental concerns. Rockwell International Corp. pleaded guilty in 1992 to 10 federal environmental law violations, according to a news release from Pat Mellen Law LLC, the firm representing the groups.

″… the documents may provide evidence of unreported and unaddressed residual plutonium contamination and other ongoing environmental dangers at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining Superfund site,” the release said.

The 5,237-acre refuge, about 16 miles northwest of Denver, surrounds a restricted area where plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs were produced. The Environmental Protection Agency had identified the Superfund site that surrounds the refuge as one of the most contaminated sites in America. But after a 2006 federal and state cleanup of the now-refuge, federal agencies consider the area usable, despite concerns from community activists and some lawmakers .

However, advocates said because grand jury records can be released when they may provide information on potential litigation, the Rocky Flats documents should be accessible.

“The documents could assist Rocky Flats nuclear workers with their unique compensation claims and the concerns of residents living downwind of Rocky Flats,” said Jon Lipsky, former special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who led the raid that shut down Rocky Flats in 1989, in the release.

Mellen added in the release that the records will allow community groups and advocates for “aggressive economic development” to end their standoff about the site’s future plans, “moving this conversation forward in a more productive, evidence-driven way.”

In November, an oil and gas company that hoped to drill underneath the former nuclear plant abandoned its plans because of public backlash .

The groups asking to unseal court records argue that the information is “critical to resolving policy controversies,” such as construction of the Rocky Flats Refuge trail buildout and visitor center, the Jefferson Parkway tollway , Rocky Mountain Greenway to connect the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Mountain National Park, and fracking permits, according to the release.

“The stalemate over the safety of Rocky Flats serves no one,” the petition stated. “Time alone will not resolve the decades-long dispute between advocates for continued development at or near Rocky Flats and concerned community groups who continue to strongly dispute the risk it still poses to public health and safety.”

The determination that the entire refuge is safe is based on a limited sample and no remediation actions were taken on hazardous substance sites at the refuge during the cleanup, according to the petition.

“The business documents obtained by the Grand Jury for the purposes of investigating environmental crimes are exactly the specific records needed to identify and precisely locate hazardous waste on the Refuge site that was never remediated,” the documents stated.

The petitioners assert that disclosure is necessary for public health and safety.

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