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Rocky Flats land swap waiting on judge's decision -- a year after the deal announced

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Pardon our dust! Exactly a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a complicated land swap at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge -- the former nuclear weapons plant, minus several hundred acres too contaminated to go public -- that would expand the refuge to the west in exchange for a right-of-way on the eastern edge for the Jefferson Parkway.

That's the controversial four-lane toll road that's been the subject of a down-and-dirty fight for decades. But according to the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, "metro Denver's beltway is almost complete."

And the land swap would help make it a reality. In announcing the plan on December 14, 2011, Steve Guertin, regional director of Fish and Wildlife, pronounced: "The exchange of the 300-foot right-of-way for this additional wildlife habitat and open space is a good outcome for the citizens of Colorado. Accepting this exchange proposal will significantly expand the Rocky Flats NWR not only for the benefit of wildlife, but it will also anchor a network of green space for the people of the Denver metro area to enjoy for years to come."

But the town of Superior immediately set up a roadblock, filing suit to block the deal, and Golden and two environmental groups soon followed suit. Although the JPPHW says that "multiple Rocky Flats soil investigations, over many decades, have all concluded that no further remediation is necessary to protect human health and the environment along the eastern edge of Rocky Flats," many critics disagree, and argue that construction would stir up dust tainted by plutonium, among other contaminants.

Now, a year and two extensions later, a federal judge is finally expected to rule on the case by December 20. But even if he gives the swap the green light, it could still fall apart, because the groups that negotiated the deal only have until the end of 2012 to finalize it.

While the plan's proponents wait for the judge to make history, the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum has extended "Behind the Atom Curtain: Life and Death in the Nuclear Age" through Saturday, December 15, giving you a chance to look at our plutonium-propelled past. The museum at 5612 Yukon Street in Arvada will be open from noon to 4 p.m.

From our archives: "Plans for the Jefferson Parkway are kicking up lots of dust."

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