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Why tell the truth now? "I want our government to do good-government deeds," he explains. "I think it's really important with the Rocky Flats wildlife act." That's the 2001 law designed to turn the former nuclear-weapons plant into the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But in making plans for the refuge, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service relied on the DOE's assurances that the area was being properly cleaned of contamination. And Lipsky, McKinley, Balkany and Brever have good reason to believe that the DOE wasn't telling the truth. "DOE made false representations to the regulators as the basis of cleanup plans," writes Brever, who left the plant in March 1992 and subsequently earned a master's degree in environmental policy. "DOE knew them to be false because the FBI investigation proved them false back in 1989-92. DOE resubmitted them to the regulators anyway, and as a result, large areas of land contaminated with radioactive and toxic wastewater were omitted from the cleanup."
What happens here next will affect not just Colorado, but the entire country. "This could be a cookie cutter for the rest of the complex and other sites," says Lipsky. "We need to get the word out."
And he's just the man to do it.
Jon Lipsky almost made it into Silver City, the movie John Sayles filmed in Colorado last fall that will have its Denver premiere on September 10 at the Paramount Theatre.
Before writing his political potboiler -- which focuses on a gubernatorial candidate who just could be George W. Bush, in a Western state that could be Texas except for the fact that it's clearly Colorado -- Sayles studied local history. He dug into the good, the bad and the very ugly, including the 1989 raid on Rocky Flats. Initially, the script had the grizzled EPA veteran who helps unravel the mystery of Silver City reveal that he'd led that raid, too. "We cut that line out just for length," Sayles says.
But Rocky Flats is never far from the discussion. Sayles is currently talking up Silver City across the country, and he says Rocky Flats comes up in at least half of the interviews. Corporate polluters and Kobe Bryant -- that's what the national press knows about Colorado. (Conveniently, Kobe and Rockwell International, which ran Rocky Flats at the time of the raid, retained the same law firm.) Reports Sayles: "When people ask, 'Why did you shoot in Colorado?,' I tell them that there's this great visual metaphor of a state that people move to because it's so beautiful, but then you have the environmental problems."
For Silver City, he decided to focus on environmental problems below the surface -- leach fields outside the mines that sent toxic waste into the groundwater and into Colorado's pristine lakes. "I couldn't have it all," he says. "Silver City is supposed to be an old mining town, so I got into the mining more than the nuclear waste. But they both left the same legacy, of 'What the hell, we've got to do this, make the money today, worry about the consequences later.' You find it not just in Colorado, but across the country."
Silver City was filmed here, though, and while Colorado looks plenty corrupt in the film, it also looks beautiful. In one stunning scene, Chris Cooper -- playing Dickie Pilager, the gubernatorial candidate who's the not-so-smart son of a veteran politician -- is riding the range with Kris Kristofferson, the corrupt businessman who's made it all possible. They're supposed to be near Silver City, the contaminated area Kristofferson wants to develop into pricey vacation homes, but the scene was actually shot sixteen miles upwind of Denver. "You look down across the highway and you see Rocky Flats," says Sayles.
Rocky Flats is never far from the discussion. Sayles grew up near a plant in upstate New York where General Electric had been putting radioactive waste under the parking lot; he knows just how hard it is to truly clean up the land -- rather than erase the past. Rocky Flats, a former nuclear-weapons plant, is now categorized as a wildlife refuge, a recreational haven for local residents. Advises Sayles: "Just leave the three-headed squirrels alone."