Former Uranium Site in Colorado's Jeffco Has Neighbors Fuming | Westword

Residents Call for Public Hearings on Proposed Warehouses in Jefferson County

A former uranium mining site could become an industrial trucking and business park.
The proposed development site backs up to a neighborhood.
The proposed development site backs up to a neighborhood. Catie Cheshire

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The former location of a research and development site for the mining industry operated by Cyprus Amax Minerals in Jefferson County could become an industrial trucking and business park, which has nearby residents concerned and calling for the county to intervene.

“These buildings have outlived their useful life and need to be replaced,” says Scott Carlson of Carlson Land, the current owner who acquired the northern and southern parcels of the 32-acre property off McIntyre Parkway and 58th Avenue piecemeal over the years. He now plans to sell the site, which was formerly known as the Table Mountain Research Center, to Constellation Real Estate Partners, a Texas-based development group that will turn it into an industrial business park.

Residents worry because the proposed new path of a canal runs through an area with an evaporative pool that contained contaminated fluid while the site was operable. Some of those residents have formed McIntyre Neighbors United, a nonprofit designed to convene others who share their concerns, gain information about the site and ultimately try to prevent the proposed development.

“We have no idea about what the environmental risk is,” says Anne Laffoon, a member of the group. “We're talking about autoimmune diseases and increased cancer risks. We're talking about a Rocky Flats kind of event, possibly."

At Rocky Flats, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission developed plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, resulting in a $7 billion cleanup. By contrast, at the McIntyre facility, AMAX — which merged with Cyprus Minerals Company in 1993 to form Cyprus Amax Minerals — conducted research on mineral ores such as uranium, aluminum and gold decades ago. The Environmental Protection Agency investigated the site in the 1990s, finding that the residue from the extraction of components of those minerals caused issues with sediment in waste ponds and chlorinated solvents in groundwater, contaminating areas of the property.

Although residents were able to submit comments related to the grading permit for the site, there will not be a public hearing on the subject, and Laffoon says they fear there never will be because it is already zoned as industrial. They argue that the previous contamination at the site and the fact that it would represent a major shift in activity level in the neighborhood means a public process should occur.

“The issue is, should there be sunshine on this issue?” Laffoon wonders. “And our position is that there should. Just because they're not required to have town hall meetings because of antiquated zoning regulations and this loophole in zoning regulations doesn't mean that there should not be. Our position is there must be, because there's no oversight.”

Before the sale, the Farmer’s Highline Canal, which currently curves across the property, will be straightened, adding extra developable acreage to the site, according to a grading permit submitted to Jefferson County Planning and Zoning in September. The area where the canal will be moved hasn’t been properly tested for contamination, the residents note, and if contaminants such as uranium, known to have been milled on the site, are dug up during construction, it could have detrimental health effects on those nearby. Carlson says the canal wasn’t built straight in the first place; it was originally designed to follow the contour of the land in order to keep it at the same height with the least amount of land manipulation.

“We're excited to move into the next phase of it and say that all that old stuff has gone away,” Carlson says. “That's now in the past. We don't have to revisit that anymore. It's not going to be a blight.”

Although Cyprus Amax removed the soil that was found to be contaminated in 2007, when it closed out its radioactive materials license with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Laffoon says there is no guarantee that there is no uranium in the area where the canal will be moved without testing for residual radiological contamination.

CDPHE oversaw the 2007 remediation of the soil on site for the radionuclides and groundwater contamination. Before AMAX came along, the site was owned by Kerr McGee, which buried waste on the property.

Jim Rada, environmental health services director for Jefferson County Public Health, says the agency found that the canal project as proposed wouldn’t stir up any potentially contaminated dirt. It worked with CDPHE, Jeffco Planning and Zoning and environmental consultants from Constellation to examine the history of the property, determining that the previous remediation ensures that there are no current sources of contamination.

“This initial project to move the canal is strictly a fill-in project,” Rada says. “In other words, they're going to bring in material from some other location and fill a certain location where that canal is going to be moved to, and then they'll install a concrete-lined canal through that material, so they're not actually intruding in this part of the project.”

He notes that the concrete ditch will help prevent contaminants from entering the water through the soil because it provides a barrier. If soil from another site is brought in, it must be contamination-free, but Carlson says there is currently no plan for such a transfer.

Excavation on the site must follow a Materials Management Plan from CDPHE pursuant to Environmental Use Restrictions and Environmental Covenants issued by the agency that specify limitations for groundwater use and vapor intrusion controls for new structures. The canal project falls under a former MMP developed during the 2007 remediation requiring that an environmental professional be on site during construction to monitor movement of soil and watch for indications that it could be contaminated. If there are such indications, work must stop immediately and can’t restart until proper testing is done. If contamination is found, a cleanup must take place.

There could be major excavation in the next phase of development. Scott Alexander, a partner with Constellation who is overseeing the development plan for the site, says tenants at the future business will include distributing for manufacturing companies in various industries like HVAC, marble and tile. The warehouses built on the property will run perpendicular to McIntyre Parkway, with space for trucks to move in and out.

Although health concerns are at the top of their minds, residents also aren’t thrilled about the idea that an industrial trucking center is moving into their semi-rural neighborhood, a place that Laffoon says attracts people who come for peace and quiet.

“Whenever we develop something, we're very thoughtful, and there's intention to our design,” Alexander says, adding that the site plan accounts for the residential area. “Any truck traffic will be back away from that, so trucks won't be going anywhere near the residences.”

Laffoon counters that this proposal accounts for more square feet of space than the rejected Amazon distribution center in Arvada that was deemed too industrial in 2021. The site is just across the border with Arvada in Jefferson County.

“We're talking about a heavy industrial site on forty acres,” she says. “That's ten city blocks' worth of property in the middle of thousands of residences.”

The facility will also offer electric vehicle charging and include landscaping on the face of the warehouse that backs up to a neighborhood. Alexander adds that the sightline of the neighborhood across McIntyre Parkway will still include a view of Hyatt Lake, which sits just east of the proposed development, because the warehouses will be low-profile. He also says there won’t be as much truck traffic as residents think, because the company anticipates smaller city trucks and vans rather than large semi-trailer trucks.

Laffoon and others in McIntyre United Neighbors group aren’t convinced. When they met with the developers, they proposed a Good Neighbor Agreement that would limit the hours of operation and daily number of truck trips at the warehouses — but the developers turned down the proposal.

"Without the Good Neighbor Agreement, there is no guarantee for the community that the builder will actually lease space to his dream tenants," Laffoon says, adding that developers haven't been willing to offer anything concrete to ensure that operations will be less disruptive to the community.

McIntyre United Neighbors asked Tracy Kraft-Tharp, the Jefferson County commissioner for the area, to move to require a public hearing even without rezoning, but were denied. They also asked for an examination of the Jefferson County Zoning Resolution that is allowing this project to be classified as light industrial development — which is what the area is zoned for — because the neighborhood believes it will be heavy industrial.

Kraft-Tharp says that the Board of Commissioners doesn’t make decisions on cases that aren’t up for rezoning, though she says she did encourage the developers to meet with concerned residents.

In response to residents writing in with concerns, Jefferson County Planning and Zoning sent out an email informing residents that it has not received an application for development of the warehouse facility, but that the zoning does allow for that use. It added that in order to build the warehouses, Constellation will need to go through the county’s Site Development Plan review process, which would require further environmental review and testing for traffic, parking, lighting, wildlife, land disturbance and more. A public hearing is not required, but resident comments will be considered as part of the evaluation process.

“It's hard for me because I care so much about the people on my street,” Laffoon says. “There are little kids — a new baby was just born. People move to my neighborhood and they never leave. We're fighting these giants with nuclear weapons, and we've got BB guns; that's how it feels to me. This is such a failure of leadership at the county level.”
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