Forbidden Fruit

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Critics of Arvada, like Dave Chandler, an Arvada resident who ran unsuccessfully for city council, say the city's stance on cleanup levels makes no sense. "It's another one of those internal contradictions," Chandler points out. "They run around talking about how the Udall bill has no cleanup levels, then they propose standards that are lower than what everyone else is proposing. This kind of inconsistency is why they're so quickly being marginalized in this Rocky Flats discussion." (Chandler maintains a Web site, Earthside.com, that regularly chastises Arvada officials.)

Suspicions have also been raised about Arvada's interest in running fire protection for Rocky Flats. When the company that manages Rocky Flats, Kaiser-Hill, asked local fire departments if they might want to take over the job, only Arvada spoke up. But when the managers of the Arvada Fire Protection District traveled to the federal nuclear facility in Los Alamos to investigate, they came back horrified at the complications of trying to protect a high-security area, which included obtaining top secret "Q" clearances for firefighters and dealing with huge amounts of red tape.

Nevertheless, the city still said it was interested -- a move that prompted Arvada's neighbors to question whether the city's real goal was to win a favored position with Kaiser-Hill and the DOE. Arvada maintained that it was only interested in the new equipment and 59 skilled firefighters it would get as part of the deal. (Kaiser-Hill later dropped the idea, concluding it was better off running its own fire department.)

The latest spat is over whether a fence should surround the buffer zone after the cleanup is completed. Arvada claims that having a fence would stigmatize the property, frightening people from going near the land. Boulder County's Danish calls that irresponsible, since there will likely still be some low-level contamination there. "If you don't want people to be warned of the dangers because it's bad for business, that doesn't cut it with me," he says.

Officials in the neighboring cities are now downplaying the conflict with Arvada, though, hoping to salvage at least some level of cooperation.

"I try to get along with people," says Hank Stovall, mayor pro-tem of Broomfield. "The last thing we need is local governments sniping at each other. I don't want to get into a shouting match where we're criticizing Arvada."

Like Westminster, Broomfield has the rights to a creek that flows through Rocky Flats. In the 1980s, when public alarm about Rocky Flats was at a high pitch, Broomfield secured an alternate supply of water from Carter Lake (west of Berthoud). However, Stovall says Broomfield would still like to find a way to use the water flowing through Rocky Flats to water city parks and golf courses, but only if it meets strict safety standards. The concern over water supplies is what has led Broomfield and Westminster to work together to press for a more rigorous cleanup of Rocky Flats. "As an elected official, I can't stand by and allow a dirty cleanup of that site," says Stovall.

While the municipal body slamming over the future of the former nuclear-weapons plant has led to bruises and wounded feelings, the question of just how much contamination should be allowed at the edge of metro Denver is deadly serious. In the not-too-distant future, schoolchildren may be hiking and looking out for coyotes on the prairie at Rocky Flats, and office buildings and homes may press up against what for years has been regarded as a no-man's-land.

What local governments are dealing with at Rocky Flats goes way beyond political egos, notes Danish, since plutonium remains radioactive for more than 240,000 years.

"I think term limits will get all of us by then," he says with a smile.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers