Advocates Petition For 30-Year-Old Rocky Flats Investigation Records To Be Unsealed

January 10, 2019
Photo: Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Sign - November 2018
In this Nov. 18, 2018, file photo, a sign marks a trailhead at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Broomfield, Colo., outside Denver.

A new legal petition was filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court to unseal 30-year-old records related to the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge.

The records are from a 1989 to 1992 Federal Grand Jury investigation into criminal actions by the former Rocky Flats contractor, Rockwell International Corporation. The documents may have evidence of residual plutonium contamination and other ongoing environmental dangers, said Pat Mellen, an environmental attorney representing the petitioners.

“It is our goal to keep the information in front of the public, in front of the decision makers, in front of the courts, to make sure a greenwashing of the site doesn’t happen,” Mellen said. “This is not your average parcel of land. It’s not clean. It met the standards that were set at the time after much dispute and debate and funding issues with Congress. But it’s not clean.”

The refuge was used by the government to manufacture nuclear weapons from 1952 to 1989. It sits 16 miles northwest of downtown Denver and was opened to the public on Sept. 15.

Despite receiving steady traffic of about 75 to 100 visitors each day, the site has been troubled with lawsuits and pushback from concerned residents.

The Colorado health department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency all say the site is safe. But environmentalists and community activists argue the refuge hasn’t adequately studied the safety of Rocky Flats.  

“It’s not about blame and it’s not about pointing fingers or being right,” Mellen said. “What we want to focus on at this point is were all of the sites properly identified and characterized and do they still pose a threat.”  

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, petitioners said the information in the sealed records is critical to resolving conflict at the site over five imminent issues: construction on trails and the visitor center, Jefferson Parkway, Rocky Flats Mountain Greenway and fracking permits.

The seven petitioners are the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups, Rocky Flats Downwinders, Candelas Glows, Environments Information Network, Rocky Flats Neighborhood Association, Rocky Flats Right to Know and Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

Former FBI agent Jon Lipsky led the federal government raid that shut the plant down in the summer of 1989. He said August marks 30 years since the grand jury was impaneled and enough time has passed.

“And make no mistake, the government did not want the documents to see the light of day,” Lipsky said. “I am just very hopeful that Ms. Mellen and the plaintiffs that have caused this action will be able to secure a positive approval from the court without opposition, but I really am worried there will be opposition.”

Mellen said this petition is different from two other pending lawsuits against the refuge because those lawsuits cannot provide any additional information in the cases.

“If I took this bottle of water and I said it’s plutonium and I wanted to bury it seven feet under your garden and I told you, ‘It’s probably going to be fine,’ Would you let me do it?” Mellen said.