Lawsuit seeks to stop construction of trails, visitor center at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

Posted at 3:12 PM, May 17, 2017

DENVER – Several groups have filed a lawsuit against the federal government in an attempt to stop construction of public facilities at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, Candelas Glows, Rocky Flats Right to Know, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association and Environmental Information Network are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming the agency hasn’t properly considered the potential for exposure to radioactive material on the site.

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge surrounds a former nuclear site that produced plutonium for use in nuclear war heads beginning in the 1950s. Activities there contaminated the surrounding soil and water and a 10-year, $7 billion cleanup project wrapped up in 2005.

RELATED: Colorado’s Superfund sites: Where are they and how is cleanup going?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to open the refuge to the public. Plans call for hiking trails, a visitor center and exhibits explaining the site’s history. Construction could begin in June, with a public opening planned for the summer of 2018.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Denver, claims federal officials have failed to comply with federal environmental laws – in particular, the National Environmental Policy Act – by not conducting a new environmental analysis of the site. The suit states that the last review was done more than a decade ago and that contaminated material has likely spread since then, due to erosion.

At a “sharing session” with neighbors Monday, officials insisted the site is safe, citing expert opinions.

"So the bottom line assessment is we believe that the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is safe for our workers and for anybody that wants to come to visit and we base that on these experts," said David Lucas, the Refuge Manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A study of communities around Rocky Flats earlier this year found that cancer rates there are not any higher than what would be expected in the rest of the Denver metro area.