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Jefferson Parkway -- and Rocky Flats land swap -- still stalled in Colorado appeals court

Looking down on the future route of the Jefferson Parkway from Rocky Flats.
Looking down on the future route of the Jefferson Parkway from Rocky Flats.

"Rocky Flats Then and Now: 25 Years After the Raid," a three-day panel at the Arvada Center this past weekend that coincided with the 25th anniversary of the FBI's raid on the former nuclear weapons plant, raised more questions than it answered. One of the stumpers: What's the status of the Jefferson Parkway?

In December 2011, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which will one day open 5,000 acres of the former plant as a wildlife refuge (the Department of Energy is holding onto another 1,309 acres in the center), approved a complicated, $10 million deal that added the 640-acre Section 16 to the southwest side of the refuge. In exchange, the agency granted right-of-way to 300 feet on the east side to the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, established in 2008 by Jefferson County, Arvada and Broomfield with the goal of completing a ten-mile link in the long-promised metropolitan beltway. But that deal hit a bump when nearby Superior and Golden, as well as two environmental groups, filed suit to block the swap.

A year later, in December 2012, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to block the land transfer that had been proposed in the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Act of 2001. Superior and the environmental groups again appealed.

And now, almost eighteen months later, both sides are still waiting for a ruling from the appeals court, which lost a judge after arguments were heard this part March.

Signs on the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats site indicate where the future entrance to the "Jefferson Beltway" will be; it would cut across the edge of the property and then go between two blocks of houses that are being constructed as part of the massive Candelas housing project.

The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority is negotiating with Madrid-based Isolux Corsan Group on the financing, design, construction and operation of the proposed toll road. At its April board meeting, JPPHA approved an extension of Isolux's current contract, and the company, Spain's largest private engineering and construction company, "continues to express interest" in the toll road project, according to Bill Ray, interim executive director of the authority. "We have yet to come to a final plan of finance," he notes, and discussion is continuing on possible design.

Right now, Ray estimates the design concept is 2 percent complete and still "very conceptual." There's a lot of analysis involved, he adds: "If we do it this way, what will it cost; if we do it that way, what will it cost?" But no matter how it is done, the Rocky Flats right of way is a critical piece of the plan.

A piece that the road's opponents would like to keep out of the project. "We are just waiting for the court of appeals to enlighten us," says Tim Gablehouse, the lawyer for Superior.

Unlike other nearby municipalities, Superior remains stalwart in its opposition to any construction project cutting through Rocky Flats and disturbing land that was once home to a nuclear weapons plant that processed plutonium. "It's everybody's problem," says Sandy Penningtown, trustee of Superior. "Not just those who live near Candelas, or the Jefferson Parkway.... You cannot control that dust."

From the Calhoun: Wake-up Call archive: ""Rocky Flats plutonium a hot topics at the State Capitol."

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