A group of environmental advocates and health care workers filed a lawsuit against Boulder that argues the city should have considered other alternatives and held a public hearing when it agreed to move forward with plans to fund trail connections at a former production facility for nuclear weapons parts.
Attorney Randall Weiner said the goal of the complaint, filed Tuesday, would be to have Boulder develop a connection to the Rocky Mountain Greenway that altogether avoids Rocky Flats, the site of a former nuclear weapons parts production facility in unincorporated Jefferson County. The ultimate vision for the Rocky Mountain Greenway is to have an 80-mile trail connecting the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and the Two Ponds and Rocky Flats wildlife refuges with Rocky Mountain National Park.
“It would be more efficient for the city to develop a route that avoids the contaminated area entirely,” Weiner said. “Boulder could also work with Broomfield on this, which dropped out of the plan due to contamination concerns.”
The complaint, filed by Physicians for Social Responsibility Colorado, the Environmental Information Network and biologist Harvey Nichols, names the city of Boulder and all Boulder City Councilmembers as defendants.
The City Council in April decided that it would move forward with its plan to participate in a Federal Land Access Program grant for an underpass at Colo. 128 that will connect trails in Boulder and Boulder County with the trail system at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. A former City Council in 2016 approved a resolution that set the plan in motion.
The intergovernmental agreement between Boulder County, the city of Boulder, Westminster, Arvada and Jefferson County, if approved by all entities, would provide matching funds to design and build two trail crossings. Boulder’s share for the Colo. 128 crossing is estimated to be $95,000, less than the city agreed to contribute in 2016.
Rocky Flats, 10 miles south of Boulder, opened for public recreation in 2018, 13 years after a decade-long $7 billion cleanup removed 21 tons of nuclear material from the former nuclear trigger plant. Rocky Flats produced plutonium triggers from 1952 to 1989, and 1,300 acres of the 6,200-acre site remain off-limits as a Superfund site.
In addition to pushing for the city to take a deeper look at the issue via a study session or public hearing, the lawsuit argues that Boulder ignored the mandate of a resolution approved in 2016 that required the city to look into other alternatives before moving forward with the underpasses.
“A city cannot run effectively if new members of its governing body can simply ignore the resolutions of past members,” the complaint reads.
“They neglected a prime consideration, a prime requirement from the old City Council and that was to look at alternatives to putting trails on the refuge,” Weiner said.
City Attorney Tom Carr said Boulder received the lawsuit.
“Unfortunately, we do not comment on pending litigation,” Carr wrote in an email.
In last month’s meeting, the City Council said that it wanted to move forward to maintain the commitment made by the earlier council. Several council members said they had to weigh the risks and that getting hit by a car crossing the road felt more likely than dying of cancer due to an exposure that happened at Rocky Flats.
Sasha Stiles, the chair of Colorado’s chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, disputed that idea, though. She said building an underpass from one contaminated area to another that is far less contaminated doesn’t make sense.
“That’s kind of a spurious argument that defies logic,” Stiles said.
As a physician living in Superior, she said she’s treated patients with cancer that they believe could stem from the contamination at Rocky Flats. Her main objective is to protect people’s health and safety.
“We are concerned that there is still a great deal of environmental pollution, radionuclides, et cetera, radiating from the Rocky Flats nuclear wreckage site,” she said.
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