By Rick Sallinger and Mark Ackerman

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Officials with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to open the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge to visitors in 2018, but a large area in the middle of the site will remain off limits.

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The plan is for both wildlife and people to roam where nuclear weapons were once built. But the center of Rocky Flats, which some call the “donut hole,” will stay closed to visitors.

Officially, the “donut hole” is the Department of Energy’s legacy site, where the most dangerous of the Rocky Flats plutonium production took place. That part will continue to be treated for residual contamination. Right now, the “donut hole” is surrounded by a barbed wire fence to keep animals away.

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger interviews Lindsay Masters, an environmental protection specialist with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (credit: CBS)

“The Central Operable Unit is not suitable for any use, because they are still treating it,” said Lindsay Masters of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “They want to protect those systems.”

Rocky Flats underwent a $7 billion multi-year cleanup from 2005 to 2012. The state, the EPA, Department of Energy along with the Fish and Wildlife Service have been insisting that the area around the center of the refuge is now safe.

“We would not open the Rocky Flats if we did not believe it was safe for our employees and our visitors,” said David Lucas of U.S. Fish and Wildlife at a recent public forum. “We rely on the experts and that’s who we brought here tonight, to really tell people the whole story about the former Rocky Flats and why it’s safe.”

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(credit: CBS)

But not everyone seemed ready to take the government’s word. Several environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to block public access to the refuge.

Bonnie Graham-Reed with the group Rocky Flats Right to Know is still leery.


“I would not take my granddaughter there,” she said. “I would personally not take any children there.”

The animals may one day roam here along with the public, but it may take a judge to decide in the end.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark