Construction Watch

Highway Authority Puts the Brakes on Jefferson Parkway by Rocky Flats

A southern entrance to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority just hit a major roadblock. Last month, a soil sample taken along the proposed parkway's right-of-way along Indiana Street, just east of the former Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, came back hot: It tested at 264 pCi/g of plutonium, more than five times higher than the 50 pCi/g cleanup standard for Rocky Flats.

The Jefferson Parkway is a privately funded, publicly owned regional toll road designed to help finish the beltway around metro Denver. It's been planned for decades, and has been the subject of debate for just as long — since Rocky Flats processed plutonium to make triggers for nuclear bombs, and also worked with many other hazardous chemicals. Named a Superfund site, the plant was the subject of a ten-year, $7 billion cleanup, but nearby residents and activists continue to question how safe the area is around Rocky Flats, which today is a national wildlife refuge.

On August 16, the JPPHA notified the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment of the hot reading. On August 20, the CDPHE sent a letter to stakeholders, noting that the "elevated sample is anomalous" and that a resample came back at 1.5 pCi/g. Further investigation was needed, the department said, and in the meantime, it was "awaiting further details."

Here's one: The Jefferson Parkway has stalled. On September 1, the City and County of Broomfield announced that "given the recent test results and the Council’s feedback, the Parkway is not moving forward at this time. There are no ordinances nor resolutions pending in front of the Broomfield City Council."

The JPPHA had already selected three finalists for the parkway construction project, which was slated to break ground in 2020. Broomfield City Council had scheduled a vote for Tuesday, September 10, on whether to provide $2 million in additional funding requested by JPPHA executive director Bill Ray back in December 2018. Questions from residents had delayed that vote for nine months; the new Broomfield neighborhood of Skyestone is one mile directly downwind of the project.

To move the process along, the JPPHA had agreed to do additional testing along the parkway right-of-way between 96th and 120th streets along Indian, just east of the refuge. Since May, contractor Engineering Analytics had taken close to 250 soil samples — and one of those samples was the one that came back hot.

As a result, Broomfield's September 1 announcement continued, "There are no on-going activities to further the selection of a private partner for the Jefferson Parkway. As stated in material distributed by the JPPHA, they await the lead of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on next steps regarding public health and safety."

The CDPHE is scheduled to give an update of its review of the JPPHA soil-sampling program to the Rocky Flats Stewardship Council, an oversight group of local government officials and other area representatives, at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, September 9.

Here's the August 20 CDPHE letter to the community: