DENVER – The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge will open as planned Saturday after a review by Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, the Department of Interior said Friday.
The Saturday opening had been briefly delayed, according to the Interior Department, after Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered Bernhardt to “look into” concerns he had heard.
But Interior Department spokesperson Faith Vander Voort confirmed in an email Friday afternoon that the refuge was indeed opening Saturday: “The Deputy Secretary has reviewed the refuge and determined it will open tomorrow as scheduled.”
About 5,000 acres of the refuge, which sits about 12 miles northwest of Denver, will now open Saturday despite protests from some groups and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., among others. Some environmental groups believe the area is still unsafe because of the decades of plutonium exposure from nuclear bomb manufacturing that happened nearby. That area is designated as a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, though the refuge is not.
The Colorado health department and EPA have both found that the refuge carried “an extremely small” increased risk for cancer but said it was safe for use by workers and visitors, a federal judge noted in August.
A federal lawsuit is still pending after Colorado environmental groups tried to block the refuge from opening. But a judge recently ruled that the refuge could open while the case was still pending.
Polis wrote to Zinke this week asking him to delay the planned Saturday opening in order to re-evaluate what impact the 2013 floods had on the Superfund site and the surrounding refuge. In his letter, Polis asked the Interior Department to complete more testing of the air, water and soil by March 2019 and to delay its opening until then.
“I will always choose the safety of my constituents above all else, and I think it’s best to err on the side of caution," he said in Thursday's letter. "My letter to the Dept. of Interior represents the voice of my constituents, as I always try to do."
Denver7 took a tour of the refuge earlier this year, which is home to rolling hills, wetlands and a wide array of wildlife.