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While You Were Away

Like the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons plant was considered a boon to the local economy when it set up shop in the early Fifties. And as at the arsenal, the business of making weapons--plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, to be exact--left a dangerous legacy. Last month Energy Secretary Federico Pena--who once was mayor of the city sixteen miles downwind of Rocky Flats--announced he was designating the facility an "accelerated pilot closure site," which means that the place is supposed to be all clean and closed by 2006.

Which also means that Rocky Flats may be cleaned up before the litigation surrounding it is.

It was eight years ago this summer that the FBI raided the plant, carting away boxes of documents that later were presented as evidence to the special grand jury investigating alleged environmental crimes at the facility. Many of those jurors, who met for the first time in August 1989, were back in U.S. District Court last month ("The Other Jury," April 10). In August 1996 the jurors had sued for the right to speak--to breach the confidentiality that governs grand jury proceedings--so they could tell the court how their investigation into Rocky Flats had been blocked. While the jurors ultimately wanted to indict eight people from the Energy Department and Rockwell International, which ran the plant at the time, the Department of Justice instead cut its own deal with Rockwell, settling the case with an $18.5 million fine and an agreement that the company was exempt from further legal action connected with the plant. (There was a notable exception, however: Whistleblower Jim Stone's 1989 suit against Rockwell was exempted from the deal, a provision that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld last week over Rockwell's protests.)

After studying a petition outlining their case, Judge Richard Matsch ordered that the jurors be heard by a U.S. magistrate, who will pass their testimony along to him. But what the jurors said is being kept confidential on Matsch's orders.

The jurors, who five years ago first told Westword how justice had been denied, want to talk about how the contamination they found stretched far outside Rocky Flats--right into the Department of Justice. They want to tell why the whole deal was dirty.

History has no half-life.

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