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But not all farmers feel this way. In fact, the district has a waiting list of farmers who want the stuff spread on their land, according to Metro spokesman Frank. "It's a good solution, because you're simply returning nutrients to the land," he says.

Tony Boncucia, a former Metro truck driver who'd been fired for a time-card violation, testified that the sludge often was applied too heavily and in creek beds and valleys. He remembered seeing cows allowed to graze in fields immediately after a sludge application, their faces covered by thick, black gook. "I never worked with anything so bad," he said. "Rubbers, Kotexes, needles -- it's unreal what you would find."

But Metro officials point out that such items normally are strained out in the early stages of the treatment process. The remaining solids are sent to huge anaerobic digesters for two weeks, where microorganisms destroy many of the pathogens. "It's the 'yuck factor,'" says Frank. "When you talk about making fertilizer from human poop, people can't process that."

Tensions between Anderson and the rest of the board escalated in early 1997, after she found a letter delivered to the EPA in December 1991 by the Lowry Coalition alleging that the landfill was contaminated with dangerous amounts of plutonium and americium -- radioactive waste that could only have come from Rocky Flats, the former nuclear-weapons plant. Metro was a member of the Coalition, and Anderson was aghast that the district hadn't mentioned the letter -- "the smoking gun memo," she calls it -- during the first year she was on the board. "Here they were libeling me all over town as a 'nutcase' and a 'wacko,' and they had not even shared this information with their own employees," she later testified.

Soon after she discovered the letter, Anderson and members of the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union held a press conference to announce their findings. A few days later, the EPA issued a two-page response, stating that there was "no evidence" that radioactive wastes from Rocky Flats had ever been dumped at Lowry. "We've done things in the past, but dumping plutonium at Lowry wasn't one of them," said Pat Etchart, spokesman for Rocky Flats.

Anderson intensified her research, filing numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the EPA. During this process, she says, documents that had previously been available publicly were restamped as "privileged." Among the documents that appear to have been reclassified is a letter from John Haggard, then the EPA's project manager at Lowry, describing allegations of illegal dumping made by former state patrolman Bill Wilson, as well as lab analyses performed for the EPA showing plutonium contamination at the landfill.

Jessie Goldfarb, an EPA attorney who often handles FOIA matters, says she doesn't know anything about any document reclassifications. "I've never done that," she adds, "and I know of no one else who would have done such a thing."

But Westword has obtained documents through its own public-records requests filed with the EPA and the City of Denver which show that the EPA has been unwilling to turn over public information regarding Lowry. These records also show that the EPA has occasionally consulted with the city about whether documents should be made public.

For example, Anderson had filed a FOIA request for a letter from the Department of Justice's David Dain, in which he advised city officials that they were breaking off settlement negotiations. Goldfarb subsequently faxed the letter to Assistant City Attorney Shaun Sullivan, who sent a memo to Ed Demos, Dennis Bollmann and Theresa Donahue, three Denver officials intimately familiar with Lowry:

"The EPA has received a FOIA request for the attached letter from the DOJ to us. EPA does not want to give it to AA [Adrienne Anderson]. Unfortunately, there is no express exception to FOIA for this purpose so EPA must rely on the need to protect the public interest (presumably in frank, open settlement discussions). Jessie Goldfarb has asked our view on disclosure/non-disclosure. Could you call me so we can discuss this matter?"

Goldfarb says she had an obligation to consult with the city because the letter contained confidential settlement information. "We couldn't release it without the city's consent," she adds. And apparently the city opposed the letter's release, because Anderson says she never received a copy of it.

But the EPA was trying to keep a lid on Lowry long before Anderson was appointed to the Metro board. In one document dated March 12, 1990, EPA officials discussed how to handle inquiries from Bryan Abas, then a reporter for Westword. "I expect there will be a Westword piece in the near future, and we will need to react with the 'facts,'" Haggard wrote in a letter to his supervisor, Barry Levene. "Lowry has been the only major project (Superfund) in the Front Range that has been relatively quiet, and you may want to consider activities to coalesce all the interested parties at Lowry so that it remains fairly quiet."

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Eileen Welsome

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