Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Safety

Activists who made a living protesting the Rocky Flats Plant are continuing their careers by using the legal system in an attempt to prevent public access to completely safe areas in the vicinity of the now closed Rocky Flats Plant. Vincent Carroll, a former editorial writer for the Denver Post, has written a powerful editorial filled with pertinent facts that deserves wide readership. I’ll submit a few key points from the editorial to encourage you to click on the link and read it in its entirety.

  • The title is “Activists ignore the science that says Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is safe.”
  • A lawsuit has been filed by activists to prevent access to the Refuge by the public, which, if successful, “…would also amount to a triumph of fear-mongering.”
  • The activists “…have stoked their exaggerated fears of Rocky Flats for too long and the habit is apparently incurable…”
  • “The rest of us can only marvel at their dismissal of science that has been conducted at the site and the consensus among relevant government agencies…that the refuge is safe for visitors and wildlife employees.”

There are many more important points in the editorial, and I request you forward the link to everyone you know who has an interest in the Rocky Flats Plant. My hope is that those who remain skeptical of the legacy of the Plant read and consider the information in the editorial. Thanks to Vincent Carroll!

Objectivity of Rocky Flats Reporting

A recent Denver Post article by Bruce Finley has some interesting information about plans for opening twenty miles of hiking, cycling, and horseback riding and a visitor center on the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in 2018. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding public meeting to solicit public input. They undoubtedly will have the usual activists show up to warn of the supposed dangers. Dave Lucas, The refuge manager mentions in the article, “Downwind of the plant there’s residual contamination. Plutonium is one of the contaminants, but it is at levels that were determined to be acceptable.” As I understand the plans, the trails being considered are on the dominantly upwind side of the plant where plutonium concentrations are about the same as fallout levels all throughout Colorado.

One paragraph in the article discusses “…the apparent end of litigation with surrounding suburbs over roadways has the cleared the way for work on relatively undisturbed wildlife habitat that extends into the mountain foothills.” I was unaware that the litigation had ended, but that is good news.

There are some inflammatory comments scattered through the article. For example, it says the “…feds…hope to tell the Rocky Flats story of evolution from American Indian hunting grounds through the Cold War military activities that ruined the environment and workers’ health to the current open oasis amid dust-churning monster house development.” Another short sentence proclaims, “Plutonium-tainted and other radioactive waste was buried at Rocky Flats causing an environmental disaster.” It’s no wonder why some people might avoid going to the refuge when it opens to take a beautiful and safe hike.

Let Science Rule on Flats Access

The controversy continues over whether cities and counties will contribute to construction of a bridge and underpass for hiker and animal access to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Failure to contribute could kill the Rocky Mountain Greenway Trail, which would eventually connect the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and Rocky Flats Refuges to Rocky Mountain National Park. A recent Denver Post editorial gives an excellent summary of the issue. It says that critics, “…simply do not trust assurances from federal and state officials that the area is safe and the cleanup has been successful. Basically, they don’t trust the available science. This is par for the course for activists who have been pushing exaggerated claims of plutonium contamination around Rocky Flats for decades, but it’s sad to see local officials buying into it.”

Some cities and counties are planning to collect soil samples of the area “to determine whether the trail would be safe” I sent a letter agreeing with most of the editorial, but warning that the results of sampling will be meaningless unless they are compared to samples taken by the exact techniques from some city parks and trails that are considered to be “safe areas.” What will be found is that all of Colorado contains plutonium fallout contamination. An extensive study of transuranics in the environment completed about 1980 found the entire earth is contaminated with plutonium. Denver is in the latitude that had some of the highest average plutonium levels. I predict the area of the project will have virtually the same amount of plutonium as samples from local cities or from the western or eastern areas of the state. Only if they make the mistake of sampling ski areas will there be much of a difference. Snowfall efficiently washes plutonium fallout out of the atmosphere.

Rocky Flats Fear Continues

There was a recent news article about the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge that reminded me anything about Rocky Flats will be vilified regardless of the facts. The article begins, “Millions of dollars in federal funds to help tie a major regional trail into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge may be in jeopardy, as communities near the refuge wrestle with the troubled legacy of the former nuclear weapons plant.” Superior and Westminster have decided not to provide their share of the funds needed to support the $6.5 million in federal funds required for the project. The proposed project would “…build two underpasses and one overpass to provide people and animals access to the refuge across Indiana Street and Colorado 128.” The federal grant requires a minimum of $1.1 million from local communities, and Superior and Westminster have declined to provide their required portion of the total. A Boulder official said, “If they’re going to do this, they’re going to have to do additional soil sampling,” she said. “If there is nothing to be afraid of, why can’t we sample to assuage the public of concerns that this is something dangerous.”

I’ve advocated that one unintended consequence of building Rocky Flats Plant is that it resulted in protection of a large swath of high mountain prairie from development. Those who call themselves “environmentalists” should be actively advocating that the proposed project would allow many people to experience that beautiful protected vista. I doubt that it will be possible, because the usual fear mongers will work to attract sufficient negative press to stop the project.

The manager of the refuge commented that “The vision for the Greenway Trail was to connect open spaces… (and that ) He’s confident that with time and accurate information, most communities will buy in to the underpass-overpass project.” I’m less confident based on the Boulder official’s comment about the need for sampling to determine whether there is “…something dangerous.” I assure you that there will be plutonium detected in samples from the area of the proposed project. I also assure you that there would be plutonium detected in the backyard of that Boulder official’s home. There also would be plutonium in the backyard of anyone reading this posting regardless of whether they are in Colorado or any other state. The entire earth was contaminated with plutonium by the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, and there will be little difference in the results from the area of the proposed project or anywhere else on the planet.

I suggest officials should also sample the dust on their office desk and/or the dirt in the landscape around their offices to allow themselves to report a comparison in the amount of plutonium detected. I predict the results would be similar.

Rocky Flats Museum Update

Murph Widdowfield is the Board President of the Museum and recently sent an update. He first gave a brief history of the development of the atom bomb and how it changed the outcome of World War II. He then thanked “…the people who worked in the nuclear industry and the others who protected us during the period of the Cold War for their efforts, safety, and labor…”

He added a paragraph that I will quote in its entirety about progress on a visitor center at Rocky Flats. “I also want to tell you about the progress of a Visitors Center at Rocky Flats which will be built by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the Refuge.  A site selection contractor and USFWS have determined that the building will be on the North side of the refuge, with the entrance on Highway 128, a little West of McCaslin Blvd.  The building will not be large with most of the displays based on the refuge with a very small area for the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum.  Also, the new Green Way Trail from Rocky Mountain Arsenal through the Two Ponds Wildlife Refuge in Arvada, up to Boulder and then on up to Rocky Mountain National Park will cross over the northern side of the wildlife refuge although it will bypass the new Visitors Center.”

You can email the museum at info@rockyflatsmuseum.org.

Sanibel Island Vacation

This commentary is a summary of my notes taken during a vacation with our daughter and her two children. The oldest grandkid was on Spring Break and the youngest was excused from school to go on the trip. The Denver metro area is having a blizzard and our backyard has about two feet of snow accumulated so far today while Sanibel is supposed to be in the high 70s with sunshine today. Denver International Airport is mostly closed, but our flight came back two days before all that started.

We flew non-stop on Frontier with very small and uncomfortable seats to Fort Myers, Fl and drove our rental car over the causeway to the island. We stocked up on groceries at a Publix on the way. We stayed at the Sundial Resort, where our daughter negotiated a 40% reduction in the room rate. We had nearly perfect weather of sunny skies and mid 80 temperatures with only one impressive and short squall that dumped more rain in minutes than what we get in the Denver area in a normal month. The biggest disappointment was that we weren’t able to do snorkeling to look at all the sea creatures. We heard Lake Okeechobee had to be drawn down from the heavier than usual rains. That made the surf too murky for snorkeling. The people at the visitor center told us it is a common spring occurrence, and they are working to get the practice stopped or modified in some way. One warning is that we did not use insect repellent on early beach visits and paid the price with the very itchy “no-see-um” bites that have stayed with us until after the vacation.

There are many fun and interesting things to do on a Sanibel vacation. Walking or relaxing on the beach with the sound of the waves, watching all the birds and boats, and twice seeing a pod of dolphins chase schools of fish up toward the shore. The bike riding is great on the island with the extensive biking paths where the only changes in elevation are the raised bridges over canals. One bike ride was to the light house and fishing pier, which was crowded. Sheepshead and mangrove snappers had been caught. (The bikes were “complimentary, although there is a $40/night resort fee for those and other recreational equipment.) A visit to the sea shell museum was a hit.

Favorite things done on the trip were lounging at the pool or on the beach and the night low-tide “shelling” with flashlights. Probably the most common creature left above the water by the receding tide were beautiful “fighting conch,” which were commonly 2 inch shells of various colors. One night expedition found three of the very large conch. (We were told it is pronounced “conk.”) We read several warnings that keeping a shell with a living inhabitant was prohibited. It might be difficult to put a really beautiful shell back when you see it’s occupied, but it’s the right thing to do.

We saw two 5-6 foot alligators up close (from our rental van). One was beside the main road that connects Sanibel with Captiva. It hissed at us as we pulled up beside it and took its picture. The other was sunning beside the water during our drive through the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is popular for all the varieties of birds. We saw numerous lizards and one of the endangered Eastern Indigo Snakes. It was crawling across the grass by our condo and disappeared into dense vegetation. An interesting fact about the snakes is that they kill prey by violently thrashing against whatever is nearby. Captive snakes are given dead animals to prevent them from injuring themselves in this violent activity!

There are many wonderful restaurants on the island, and we had a running conversation about which was the best that we tried. All were busy. The Bubble House is a strange place apparently so named because it has chandeliers made of bubbling Christmas lights. Our waiter was a young woman wearing Boy Scout shorts and shirt and a headband with cat ears. The meal came with wonderful cheesy bread and sticky rolls. The menu was a bit odd, not extensive, and relatively expensive. The key lime pie was declared the “best ever.” The best of Doc Ford’s was the pound of “Calypso” peel and eat shrimp. We tried the Island Cow, and thought it was so good we went back for our last meal on the island. The most interesting meal there was the “Holy Cow,” which was a combination of fried shrimp, oysters, clams, and calamari. Alligator could be and was added to make a meal that could easily be enough for two to three people. I’ve decided to leave the Lazy Flamingo for last because it was my favorite. Very friendly people in what I think of as a beach café setting with a mix of locals and tourists. We recommend that you try the fresh grouper there or anywhere else it is on the menu. There were two trips to Pinocchio’s, which is a very busy ice cream place. Try the “dirty sand dollar,” if you like chocolate.

I’ll close with a description of a memorable 16×20 inch cake decorated with a beach motif from Bailey’s for a tenth birthday celebration. The cake had blue icing waves on the sides, blue water and sand (graham cracker crumbs) on top, and a variety of sugar “sea shells.” There also was a miniature beach chair, palm trees, a beach bucket and shovel, umbrella, and sand castle. A wonderful birthday cake and wonderful vacation. Try Sanibel, you’ll like it!

Rocky Flats Back in the News

It has been a while since there has been a significant news story about the legacy of the Rocky Flats Plant. The production of plutonium parts for nuclear weapons was the part of the mission that was the primary focus of those who concentrated on protesting the plant. I’ve attempted to convince people that much more was accomplished at the site, but plutonium manufacturing continues to dominate the conversation even all these many years since the site was torn down and the surrounding area converted into a wildlife refuge.

There haven’t been any mass media reports about the plant until a recent news story in the Denver Post titled “Neighboring Rocky Flats” by Electra Draper. There is a subtitle, “The more I learned…the more horrified I became.” I will give the article credit for resurrecting at least some of the words and phrases that were used frequently in new reports to criticize the place while the plant was still in operation. One example is the description about “…plutonium fires in 1957 and 1969 that wafted toxic smoke over the metro area”. Another is the concern that the proposed Jefferson Parkway and development of hiking and biking trails in the area now designated as a Wildlife Refuge will “…kick up plutonium-laced dust”. There was a new descriptor used to explain the concern that “…the site’s toxic legacy has faded…”and that people would move into the “plutonium dust bowl without understanding the potential risk.” Continue reading