Wednesday, June 21, 2000
Arvada mayor blasts proposals to restrict activities on site
By BRIAN HANSEN
The now-mothballed Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant -- where the soil is still contaminated in spots with high levels of plutonium and other dangerous materials -- might make a fine place to build a 400-acre research park or "educational" facility after it closes in a few years.
So declared Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman in letters sent last week to Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Mark Udall, who have both proposed legislation that would forever preserve the 6,000-acre site as some form of non-developable open space.
"We would like Rocky Flats to be cleaned up to a level that permits reasonable unrestricted access to the site ... regardless of land-use designation," Fellman wrote in his June 16 letter to Allard. "We expect new ideas (pertaining to the future use of the site) may come forward as the cleanup progresses. Federal legislation restricting future options would prevent potential new and better uses."
Allard's bill, which has not yet been introduced to the Senate, would designate Rocky Flats as a federal wildlife refuge. Udall's measure, which was introduced earlier this month, would classify the 6,000-acre site as federally protected open space. Both pieces of legislation would prohibit any permanent development on the site, including the construction of any "through" roads."
Fellman took issue with those restrictions in his letters to the two federal officials.
"It is premature to make final decisions about the future use, ownership, and management responsibility of the site," Fellman declared in his letter to Allard. "The City of Arvada recommends that a range of options be preserved."
In his letters, Fellman declared that future management of the site should be completely turned over to local governments, because federal agencies such as the Department of Energy "do not share the interests of local residents and communities."
But if federal legislation regarding the future disposition and management of the site were to be drafted, Fellman maintained that it should include the following:
• A provision that would "allow and provide for research or educational re-use of land area in or equivalent In size and infrastructure) to the current 400-acre industrial area."
• A provision that would "specify numerical cleanup levels in the Buffer Zone and Industrial Area that allow for reasonable unrestricted access and a range of options for re-use."
• A provision that would "provide substantive economic considerations to adjacent communities affected by the loss of 5,000 jobs."
• A provision that would "provide for substantive involvement of local governments on all issues pertaining to cleanup and reuse."
Fellman, in his correspondence, also re-wrote large portions of Udall's bill and sent it back to the Boulder Congressman. Fellman struck out Udall's language pertaining to the ecological importance of the Rocky Flats buffer zone, adding his own paragraph that authorizes the establishment of a research or educational facility on the site. The Arvada mayor also wrote into Udall's bill a suggested land-swap provision that would allow that development to be established anywhere on the 6,000-acre parcel, as well as a measure that would authorize the construction of a major highway across any portion of the site.
David Abelson, executive director of the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, said that the issues raised by Fellman and the City of Arvada are "clearly inconsistent with the preferences of the RFCLOG board of directors, six local governments, a United States Senator, a United States Congressman, the Colorado Attorney General and the governor."
"The City of Arvada is proposing to turn some portion of the Rocky Flats buffer zone into industrial use, and that is inconsistent with the long-stated desires of the community," said Abelson.
Boulder County Commissioner Paul Danish, Boulder County's representative to RFCLOG, was more frank in his assessment of the proposals articulated by Fellman and the City of Arvada.
"They said last February that they were going to march to the beat of a different drummer, but somehow I never imagined that it was going to be Smokey the Bear who's beating the drum for them," quipped Danish. "It ain't exactly a confidence-building measure."
Danish said that he was particularly concerned by Fellman's proposal to have the management of Rocky Flats assumed by local governments.
"The biggest concern I have is that I think Rocky Flats is the federal government's responsibility, and I hope they keep that responsibility in perpetuity, or until there is zero chance of contamination from the property," Danish said. "I would strongly oppose turning Rocky Flats over to local governments that do not have the resources to manage something that has the kind of unknown risks that are out there."
Specifically, Danish said he was alarmed by the provision that would allow for the establishment of a 400-acre "research or educational" facility on the site.
"It's obviously an ambiguous, 'Clinton-esque' term -- what does he mean by 'research' or 'education?'" Danish asked. "To give some sense of just how intense that could be, the campus of the University of Colorado -- which has over 25,000 students and 6,00 staff members -- is 300 acres. If the research consist of studying the Preble's jumping mouse or other unique species that might be found on Rocky Flats, that isn't much of an impact. But if the research is something like the Stanford research center or Los Alamos National Laboratory, that's a very different kettle of fish."
Danish also had questions about the transportation-related changes that Fellman proposed be made to Udall's bill.
"That opens the possibility of highways designed to serve development," Danish said. "Let's put it this way -- it's preserving the option of highways designed to serve development that would be preserved when we preserve another option -- and there's a little too much option preservation in there for my liking."
The Colorado Daily also learned on Tuesday that the City of Arvada has hired Patton & Boggs, a high-powered Washington-based lobbying firm, to represent it in matters pertaining to the disposition of Rocky Flats and other federal issues.
"I assume they're not doing that in order to achieve a lower level of use than has been proposed in the Allard and Udall bills," Danish said.
Fellman, reached by telephone just before press time Tuesday evening, said that Danish and other critics had the misconstrued the letters.
"Paul Danish has told me to my face that he doesn't believe me when I say that we're not looking to develop Rocky Flats," Fellman said. "He's a little hesitant to say I'm a liar, but when Arvada says we're not interested in economic development, their position is that they don't believe us.
"I can't stress this enough -- we are not looking for economic development or economic re-use at Rocky Flats," Fellman added. "There is the potential for new ideas that we haven't thought of yet, that might relate to alternative energy or some kind of educational or research issues. We just raised that (in the letters) because we think its good policy."
Fellman said that it would be unwise to pass federal legislation now that restricts how Rocky Flats could be utilized a full six years before the facility is scheduled to be closed.
Fellman was also quick to reject criticism of the proposed 400 acre research/educational site. The Arvada mayor said that the number is insignificant.
"We had to pick some number, or everyone would have said, 'Oh my god, they want to develop the whole 6000 acres!'" Fellman said. "I didn't spend more than two seconds thinking about that number. It just strikes me as amusing that people on this coalition have so little trust for anything that Arvada does. If we hadn't put any limitation on there. We'd be accused of wanting to develop the whole 6000 acres."
Fellman also denied that, by changing Udall's language about the transportation corridor, he's trying to pave the way for the construction of the Northwest Parkway through the middle of the Rocky Flats buffer zone.
"We're not asking for any kind of corridor through the middle of the site," he said. "We're talking about some kind of corridor adjacent to the site, wherever it is determined is the best place to go."
Fellman also defended the hiring of Patton & Boggs, noting that lots of cities hire lobbying firms.
"We hired Patton Boggs to represent us on federal issues, not specifically Rocky Flats," he said. "We have a wide range of federal issues that we're dealing with. They're a respected firm with a lot of Washington connections."
Udall, reached by telephone in Washington, said he would study Fellman's letter carefully.
"I appreciate Arvada's continued involvement in the discussion of the future uses at Rocky Flats," Udall said. "We'll respond at an appropriate time."