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Debate Over Public Trails On Former Nuclear Weapons Site

By Jeff Todd

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4)- Despite opposition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finalizing its plans to open up the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the public.

Multiple trailheads, crossings, and parking lots have been funded as well as more than five miles of trails encircling the Department of Energy Legacy Site.

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"We're really concerned about the amount of plutonium that's in the environment from the former weapons plant," said Alesya Casse a Board Member of the Rocky Flats Downwinders.

About 100 people filled a community room in the controversial Candelas neighborhood to hear the FWS plans for moving forward with the opening of the wildlife refuge.

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"There is a significant amount of funding that has been secured for these projects. That includes building a building, building an entrance road parking lots, trails within the refuge and trailheads," said David Lucas the Rocky Flats Refuge Manager for FWS.

"This is not just insane, this is criminal," one man shouted from the crowd.

Several meeting attendees were concerned with the amount of plutonium in the soil of the refuge, and wanted independent studies. Others were concerned with how close some trails get to the government's Superfund site which is the most contaminated area in the Rocky Flats site.

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"We don't know what's underneath the soil that might be disturbed and the workers contrasting the trails might be exposed to and also exposure to the residents and visitors who might be recreating," Casse said.

Others want to see the trail system open with a visitor's center highlighting the history of the area including homesteads and ancient dwellers through the nuclear plant's operation and clean up.

"I see it as a real gem for the communities here," said Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance Executive Director Steve Watts. "It's not going to be advanced trails, it's going to be trails that children can enjoy, beginners can enjoy."

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Watt and many others in the crowd were not concerned with the environmental or health concerns.

Local governments have been asked to fund some trail crossings and Rocky Flats is a critical piece of a puzzle that would link trails together from Boulder, Broomfield, and Jefferson Counties. It's also important in finalizing a trail from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

"We fully recognize there's a wide variety of opinions and we recognize people have concerns," said Lucas. "We've made the determination the site is safe for our workers and safe to be out there."

"I think the community needs to come together and express concerns and advocate for themselves that they don't want this wildlife refuge open," said Casse.

Jeff Todd joined the CBS4 team in 2011 covering the Western Slope in the Mountain Newsroom. Since 2015 he's been working across the Front Range in the Denver Headquarters. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Jeff.

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