Future of Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to be decided by judge

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DENVER -- The future of one of Colorado’s most controversial pieces of land will soon be decided by a federal judge.

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, a nuclear bomb factory from 1952 through the 1980s, is set to open to the public as a national wildlife area -- complete with walking trails - later this summer.

But opponents -- who are asking Judge  Phillip Brimmer for an injunction -- are concerned public access will cause environmental harm to users and residents nearby.

A hearing was held Tuesday in Denver federal court. Brimmer is expected to rule soon, perhaps this week.

“My area of expertise is I’m a mom,” Elizabeth Panzer said.

Panzer testified her fear that walking trails will disturb contaminated dirt, bringing it to her nearby neighborhood.

“Once people are on the trails, they are going to be tracking it back to my neighborhood,” she said.

In addition to Panzer, scientific specialists testified in regard to their concerns about particles still present in the area.

Testimony also focused on how environmental studies of the region are outdated.

When asked if he would ever visit Rocky Flats, John Burton, who worked at the site for 21 years, said “Never.”

“It’s too dangerous, there is too much buried below the ground," he said.

The federal government strongly disagrees.

The Department of Justice and attorneys for the Department of the Interior told Brimmer that any belief the area is dangerous is “speculative” and the land has been deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

David Lucas, manager of the site with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, testified in support of opening it.

Lucas directly responded to the belief many users will go off of the trails, potentially creating a risk.

“Our opinion is most people follow the rules and if they don’t, we will enforce those rules,” Lucas said.

Lucas also said the opening of the trails “may” impact the endangered jumping mouse, though it is unlikely.

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