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Boulder County reconsidering involvement in trail connection to Rocky Flats due to plutonium concerns

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Posted at 9:45 PM, May 23, 2024

BOULDER, Colo. — The beautiful trails winding through Boulder can be hard to avoid.

"More people are coming every day," said Scott Riemer, who comes to the area to bike multiple times a week.

But now, Boulder County commissioners are facing concerns from community members as a result of decisions made by their predecessors. At the center of the controversy is Rocky Flats, acres of federal land formerly home to a nuclear weapons facility.

In 1989, the facility was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for alleged environmental violations, including elevated levels of plutonium. All operations were suspended. Since then, trails have been developed on Rocky Flats.

In 2016, wheels were set in motion to develop the Rocky Mountain Greenway, a string of trails from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge to the Rocky Flats Mountain Wildlife Refuge to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Map of Rocky Mountain Greenway
Map of Rocky Mountain Greenway

While trails on Rocky Flats have been built, construction impacting Boulder County has yet to start.

During a windstorm on April 6, Michael Ketterer, a retired scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Denver, took samples and said he detected high levels of plutonium in the air.

"The concentrations in the dirt that's just kind of blowing right past us on that day are higher than can be explained in any way in normal," said Dr. Ketterer.

Ketter's concerns revolve around erosion and soil displacement as a result of the planned construction of an underpass to connect the trails on Rocky Flats to trails in Boulder County.

"We do not want to encourage or enable human traffic on the refuge because it's going to raise the rate of erosion, and it's going to push more contamination off federal property," said Dr. Ketterer.

In a Board of County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, members of Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces emphasized the agency has conducted its own testing for elevated plutonium in the impacted areas.

The board will hold an executive session on May 29 to discuss potential legal options regarding the intergovernmental agreement signed years ago.


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