By Melissa Garcia
DENVER (CBS4) – Citizens groups gathered at Colorado’s Capitol Saturday in protest of the proposed opening of a recreational facility at Rocky Flats.
The rally came one day after a major court decision regarding the area’s future.
The former nuclear weapons plant site sits 16 miles northwest of Denver.
On Friday, a U.S. district court dismissed a lawsuit alleging environmental violations in the planning of Rocky Flats’ future use. The court will allow plaintiffs to reopen the case if government agencies do not follow through in properly analyzing the risks of opening Rocky Flats to the public.
Some of the protesters said they have experienced the risks first hand.
“I found out through a Google search that I lived near Rocky Flats. I was having health problems at the time,” said Tiffany Hansen, who grew up in Arvada.
Although she spent the first 18 years of her life in the area, Hansen only recently learned of the nuclear weapons production facility that operated for close to 40 years near her childhood home.
“I started to reach out to people that I went to school with and found out there was a lot of illness in the area,” Hansen told CBS4’s Melissa Garcia. “A lot of people were sick. People had cancer. People had passed away.”
Hansen said that the findings, based on preliminary information from a survey by Rocky Flats Downwinders and Metropolitan State University of Denver, call for more research.
She and others rallying want the research to be conducted before Rocky Flats opens to the public.
The site of the plant that used plutonium to build hydrogen bomb triggers is now home to a national wildlife refuge that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to open to hikers, bikers and horseback riders in the summer of 2018.
“You can breathe a plutonium particle in today and you won’t wake up sick tomorrow. It takes a long time,” said Bonnie Graham-Reed, who co-founded Rocky Flats Right to Know and organized Saturday’s rally.
After years of cleanup efforts and periodic monitoring, federal and state agencies deemed the land safe for human use.
Graham-Reed disagrees with the agencies’ determination.
“They would have to exhume the entire site, in which case it would not be a wildlife refuge anymore, to get all of the contamination up to make it safe for humans,” Graham-Reed said.
A map of proposed construction shows an 8.7 mile greenway and other trails stretching through the refuge, along with a visitors’ center that would welcome tens of thousands of people every year.
“People are at risk and especially children,” Graham-Reed added.
Randall Weiner, the attorney who filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that if federal agencies do not do adequate testing before opening the refuge to the public, he will bring the case back to court.
The agency expects to break ground on the public facilities at Rocky Flats this winter.