Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Allard: Convert Flats
into a wild life refuge

Senator outlines his proposal, but critics want assurances that site cleanup won't be compromised

By BRIAN HANSEN
Colorado Daily Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER -- Clean it up. Close it down. Convert it into a federal wildlife refuge.

That's what Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard is proposing be done at Rocky Flats, the former nuclear weapons manufacturing plant 10 miles south of Boulder.

Allard met with a host of local officials and interested citizens on Monday to discuss his proposal for the disposition of the 6,000-acre federal facility, which he hopes to introduce to the Senate as early as next month.

"Our primary objective is the cleanup and eventual closure of Rocky Flats, and I think we're pretty well on schedule," Allard said. "The question is, 'What kind of use is that property going to be put to after closure occurs?'"

According to the terms of a $4-billion contract signed in January between the U.S. Department of Energy and Rocky Flats contractor Kaiser-Hill, the former nuclear weapons facility is scheduled to be cleaned up -- and closed down -- on or before Dec. 31, 2006.

Allard believes that the best disposition for the 6,000 acre site would be to turn it into a federal wildlife refuge, which would be owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That's fine with many local elected officials -- as long as the cleanup of the site won't be compromised because of the way it would -- or would not -- be used.

"I think we need to be convinced that the wildlife refuge designation is not going to increase the chances that we won't get (a more thorough) level of cleanup," Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman told Allard. "Many of us, while we are comfortable with an open-space designation, are looking for a higher level of cleanup than CERCLA would require for open space."

CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, is better known as the "Superfund" law. Under Allard's bill, the cleanup of the Rocky Flats facility would continue to be governed by that authority, as it has been since the facility was designated a Superfund site in 1989.

That's exactly what worries activists like Tom Marshall of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, who noted that under CERCLA, cleanup levels for land designated as open space could be set significantly lower than they might be for land that is intended for frequent human use.

"It seems that the intent (of the bill) is not to limit cleanup," Marshall told Allard. "However, under CERCLA ... the anticipated future use (of a site) is used to set cleanup levels, so I think that's an issue that needs to be addressed very clearly."

Allard said that he appreciated Marshall's point, but the senator balked at the idea of incorporating specific soil cleanup levels into his legislation.

"I think that if we start getting into cleanup levels, we're going to create a lot of problems," Allard said. "We (should) rely on CERCLA -- it's a federal statute. I think that we need to keep cleanup out of this bill."

Allard said that he modeled his legislation on the agreement that led to the establishment of the federal wildlife refuge at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, another Denver-area Superfund site.

"We had the same concerns that came up with the Rocky Mountain Arsenal -- the exact same concerns," Allard told his questioners. "We kept the cleanup issues separated on that under CERCLA, and it seems to be working very well out there."

Fellman agreed with Allard to a point, but the Arvada Mayor noted that the cleanup and conversion of the Arsenal proceeded somewhat differently than what is mapped out for the future of Rocky Flats.

"I think what some of us are concerned about is that we get to the year 2005 ... and there is a serious need for federal money for more contaminated properties at other DOE facilities around the nation -- and Congress says, 'Well, it's good enough at Rocky Flats,'" Fellman said. "We just want to make sure that an open-space designation of any kind in 2000 doesn't increase the chances that money might get diverted someplace else."

Dean Rundle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, acknowledged that there are differences between the two projects.

"The big difference is that we were involved much earlier on at Arsenal than we have been at Rocky Flats," Rundle said. "The (Record of Decision) was signed in 1996, but we'd had an office out there with refuge people working with the Army for 10 years prior to that. We're at zero with the Department of Energy, so in terms of the amount of integration, we're way behind."

Allard was quick to reassure Fellman and the other officials that wouldn't be a problem.

"It's hard to anticipate what's going to happen in the future, (but) if we get in talking about cleanup levels, you're going to just stop this thing, because those issues can't be determined at this point in time," he said.

Allard said that keeping the language of the bill fairly vague would give local officials and citizens more latitude to make decisions in the future.

"We can write a piece of legislation that has a lot of detail in it, but what happens is that you lose flexibility," Allard said. "We have (in the bill) a provision for a lot of local input. I don't want it to be my vision -- I want it to be your vision."

Under Allard's bill, the members of the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments would be authorized to contribute to the drafting of management plans for the site. Several speakers asked Allard to expand that advisory body, allowing groups such as the Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory board to take part in the process.

Congressman Mark Udall, D-Boulder, has already introduced a bill that would preserve Rocky Flats as open space. Allard said Monday that he hopes to work closely with Udall to ensure the best and most appropriate future for the site and the people who live around it.

Allard's bill, like Udall's legislation, would prohibit communities from annexing any portion of the Rocky Flats site. It would also prohibit the construction of any "through roads," as well as any permanent development on the site. If Allard's bill were enacted, the transfer of the property would commence in the year 2007.

To read the full text of Allard's proposal, log on to his Web site at www. senate.gov/~allard.