Colorado Daily

Friday, September 01, 2000

Allard, Udall introduce Flats open-space bill

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., and Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., will today introduce legislation to turn the 6,000-acre "buffer zone" inside Rocky Flats into a national wildlife refuge.

The proposed bill will be presented to Congress by mid-September, Sean Conway, a spokesman for Allard said.

The bill calls for areas of Rocky Flats to be handed over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following the closure and cleanup of the former nuclear weapons production facility.

That cleanup, conducted by the Department of Energy, is scheduled to be completed by 2006.

Under the bill, Rocky Flats would not be completely turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service -- some portions would remain under the Department of Energy.

Conway said the refuge would represent a habitat for many species, including the rare Preble's jumping mouse.

However, the proposed bill is already facing criticism.

The Environmental Information Network blasted the idea of turning the buffer zone into a refuge, suggesting instead that the public be permanently be restricted from the area.

"There is deep concern that (the bill) will add to the public perception that the site will or has been completely cleaned up and might be accessible for public tours or school field trips, putting more of the public at grave risk or future health problems from the lingering radiation and hot spot zones ...," an EIN press release stated.

Even a scheduled press conference to be held by Allard and Udall today at the east side of Rocky Flats at 1:30 p.m. came with a warning from the EIN.

Journalists were urged to wear protective coverings on their face and shoes.

"The east side of Rocky Flats is well-known to be the worst contaminated area," EIN warned.

Conway said Allard was prompted to draft the legislation after constituents had voiced concerns about a lack of open space on the Front Range. The proposed legislation comes after several years of study and discussion between Allard, citizen groups and other politicians, Conway said.

The Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments -- which represents seven local governments including Boulder -- has not yet thrown its full support to the legislation, but has worked closely with Allard and Udall.

Executive Director of the coalition, David Abelson, said the "bill should garner broad support."

He praised Allard and Udall for their attention to "key points," such as the protection of water rights and areas of the Rock Creek Reserve that fall inside the buffer zone.

Yet Abelson also noted the cleanup is a "complex issue" with "uncertainties."

"We have to presume it is the case that the federal government is not going to remove every particle," Abelson said.

However, he adds that designating the buffer zone as a wildlife refuge should not compromise cleanup efforts.

"There's nothing to suggest a dirtier cleanup," Abelson said.