Plutonium parkway

Activists say a highway or bikeway through Rocky Flats site may present hazards



On July 20, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a public meeting to gather input regarding the use of certain areas of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for transportation. While some local governments and agencies are eager to see the parcel of land — a strip up to 300-feet wide from the Indiana Street right-of-way on the eastern border of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge — be used either for a proposed parkway or a bike path, local nuclear activists say building anything there could be dangerous due to the presence of plutonium in the soil.

The Rocky Flats site, east of Highway 93 between Boulder and Golden, used to be a nuclear weapons plant. Production was halted in 1992, and the site went through years of cleanup, the success of which is disputed, before the land was set aside as a wildlife refuge.

The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) has offered $1.8 million for the land to build Jefferson Parkway, a proposed privately financed tollway that would help complete the long-coveted beltway around Denver. The proposed road would connect to the end of Northwest Parkway, running south along the eastern boundary of the refuge and connecting to Highway 93. Supporters believe that the tollway will relieve traffic on U.S. 36 and I-70, as well as bring more jobs and businesses to the area.

The city of Golden is against the tollway and instead has offered $2 million for the space to build a pedestrian and bike path called the Jefferson Bikeway. The trail will connect to other regional trails.

“We believe our proposal has an excellent chance of being selected because it is much more respectful of the natural resources in the Rocky Flats area compared to the multi-lane toll road proposed by the JPPHA,” Golden City Manager Mike Bestor said in a recent press release.

But before any of that happens, LeRoy Moore, of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, believes that a deeper environmental investigation needs to take place.

“What we’re proposing is that they don’t sell the property at all until they have done a full environmental impact statement,” Moore says. “This includes sampling the soil to find out how much plutonium is in there, what the depth is and how widespread it is. That’s what they need to do.”

Moore argues that after the Rocky Flats clean up in 2005, the Colorado Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency, which approved the cleanup and gave the green light to make it a refuge, didn’t test the soil thoroughly enough to determine whether the plutonium levels were still harmful.

“They did, indeed, sample the soil in the area that’s being talked about, but the sampling they did was very shallow on the surface of the soil,” Moore says. “It was inadequate and didn’t go deep into the soil. Scientists in 1970 produced a map detailing the high concentrations of plutonium areas. They only tested a depth of eight inches, and they showed that the area along Indiana Street is highly contaminated with plutonium.”

If a road or bike path is constructed in an area where plutonium is present in the soil, particles of plutonium could make their way into the air, where they present a health hazard. Plutonium emits a type of radiation that does not penetrate skin but that can cause cancer or other ailments if it is inhaled or ingested. Activists say that because plutonium remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years, it poses a permanent hazard.

Neither the city of Golden nor the JPPHA have discussed the need for an environmental impact study, but both cite the EPA’s approval of the cleanup in 2005.


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