Down and dirty: Rocky Flats wildlife refuge soil samples to be tested

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 7/23/18

I recently wrote about whether the former Rocky Flats nuclear site is safe for the general public to use as the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The lawsuit brought by opponents of opening the …

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Down and dirty: Rocky Flats wildlife refuge soil samples to be tested


I recently wrote about whether the former Rocky Flats nuclear site is safe for the general public to use as the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

The lawsuit brought by opponents of opening the site for hiking and the benefits of viewing nature is before a court as we speak. This issue just won’t go away, not after the decades since the $7.7 billion clean-up was done on the site.

Now, a partial radionuclide soil sampling and analysis is moving forward on the Wildlife Refuge site only as it relates to the Rocky Mountain Greenway project. This is a prudent move by the group of local governments, which is paying for the soil testing effort.

Rocky Mountain Greenway is a key connector

In 2016, Jefferson County Open Space, City of Arvada, City of Boulder, Boulder County, City and County of Broomfield and City of Westminster joined forces to submit a grant application to extend the Rocky Mountain Greenway regional trails project.

This project picks up where Phase one terminates -- at Broomfield’s Great Western Open Space - and will go through the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge into Boulder County.

The Rocky Mountain Greenway is one of three “Colorado the Beautiful” statewide trail priorities which intersect Jefferson County. The vision of the project is to ultimately connect the three Front Range National Wildlife Refuges through an interconnected, multi-use, regional trail system. The other refuges are the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and the Two Ponds refuge in Arvada.

Phase one of the total project, linking the Arsenal and Two Ponds is mostly done. Phase two links Rocky Flats Refuge to Lyons, Colorado which is in the planning and study phases and includes the Rocky Mountain Greenway project pursued by the six above named local governmental entities. Phase three which would go from Lyons to Rocky Mountain National Park is still in the conceptual phase. As you can see, it is a very ambitious plan.

A need to address the negative perception

The radionuclide soil sampling and analysis project is a strategic and astute step by the six local governments which are sharing the approximate $100,000 cost to determine if there are radionuclides in the soil beyond safe levels for human beings.

No state or federal funds are involved in this endeavor. The sampling effort is not for the entire refuge site but follows the route of the greenway. A key factor in the soil sampling scope of work will be the level of contamination established to be acceptable to human exposure.

Over the years, there has been a lack of agreement on what level is acceptable. Given the amount of publicity and doubt about the radionuclide levels in the soil on the former plutonium trigger manufacturing site, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be wise to follow the local governments’ lead in authorizing another soil sampling and analysis on the areas within the 5,300 acre portion of the site which will be open to the public. While this would involve additional cost and time delays to opening the refuge, it would be time and money well spent.

Currently, over 300,000 students from seven school districts are prohibited from accessing the wildlife refuge per actions of the respective school boards or superintendents of schools. While this is not a “scientific” conclusion by the various school districts, it clearly demonstrates the impact of public perception. The two involved state agencies need to address this perception before opening the refuge.

As the saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t believe poverty in America has been overcome

I was amazed by the recent Denver Post headline “White House declares war over.” It has nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria or other international hostile situations.

It addresses the “War on Poverty” which was launched by President Johnson back in the 1960’s.

The Trump White House has proclaimed that the war on poverty is largely over and successful.

The statement goes on: “There are few truly poor Americans and that those who remain on government aid should be pushed toward private employment.”

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley recently stated that no more than 250,000 Americans are in “extreme poverty” when condemning a United Nations report saying 18.5 million Americans suffered from extreme impoverishment.

Wow, what is she smoking?

This is all a part of the Trump Administration and Congressional Republicans trying to convince us that funding for poverty-related programs such as housing assistance and food stamp programs should be drastically reduced.

Experts know the problem persists

Any number of experts in the field who monitor and work with people who are suffering under poverty conditions have rebutted the White House pronouncement.

Congressional Republicans are using the argument that unemployment is way down and job opportunities abound. Therefore, the number of people at or below poverty income levels is way down. However, while the employment picture is indeed positive, it does not mean that everyone is living high on the hog.

There are still too many people and families who struggle to live off minimum wage jobs or no jobs at all. Some are unable to work.

Furthermore, living costs continue to escalate. For example, housing costs both rental and buying a home in the Denver metro area are beyond a growing segment of people. Just look at the growing number of people and families who are homeless. Just look at the ever-increasing demands on food banks.

I say to Congressional members and President Trump, forget this myth! Get out and talk to people on the street or in the homeless shelters or the volunteers who staff the food banks or the county social service employees who work with people faced with poverty conditions. While requiring able-bodied people who are on food stamps to work at least part-time has merit, in my opinion, telling the American public that the war on poverty is over and funding should be drastically reduced is flat out false.

That dog just won’t hunt.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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