A dig at refuge prairie dogs

Rocky Flats crit­ics raise ra­dioac­tiv­ity con­cerns, which of­fi­cials dis­miss

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By John Aguilar

A group fight­ing next year’s open­ing of Rocky Flats Na­tional Wildlife Refuge is lam­bast­ing a plan to re­lo­cate prairie dogs to the place where nu­clear weapons com­po­nents were as­sem­bled for nearly 40 years, claim­ing the bur­row­ing an­i­mals could bring to the sur­face long-buried ra­dioac­tive con­tam­i­nants.

“The no­tion that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice would im­port an­i­mals that can burrow down through a highly ra­dioac­tive area is ex­ceed­ingly reck­less,” said Randall Weiner, an at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing sev­eral cit­i­zen groups who are at­tempt­ing to keep the 6,200-acre refuge 16 miles north­west of Den­ver from open­ing to the public next year.

But of­fi­cials in charge of the refuge say the warn­ings are with­out merit, given that the 200 or so prairie dogs that may be moved to Rocky Flats from Long­mont wouldn’t be placed any­where near the ac­tual site where plu­to­nium trig­gers were made for the na­tion’s nu­clear weapons arsenal.

Dave Lu­cas, refuge man­ager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, said the ar­riv­ing an­i­mals would be lo­cated next to an ex­ist­ing prairie dog colony along State High­way 128, on Su­pe­rior’s south­ern bound­ary. That’s nearly a mile from the Cen­tral Oper­a­ble Unit, which is where the sprawl­ing weapons plant was lo­cated and where sec­tions of highly con­tam­i­nated build­ings were buried in place.

Cleanup of the site was com­pleted in 2005.

“There have been prairie dogs on the refuge for decades,” Lu­cas said Fri­day. “If prairie dogs show up (on the Cen­tral Oper­a­ble Unit), we would re­move them and con­trol them.”

The 1,300-acre core sec­tion of Rocky Flats re­mains a Su­per­fund site un­der the aus­pices of the U.S. De­part­ment of En­ergy and of­flim­its to the public. Lu­cas said the ma­jor­ity of the refuge, which sur­rounds the for­mer man­u­fac­tur­ing com­plex, has been ex­haus­tively tested for ra­dioac­tiv­ity and other health haz­ards and found to be safe.

The refuge is sched­uled to open to the public some­time in 2018.

Lu­cas said his agency keeps bur­row­ing an­i­mals from mak­ing homes in the his­toric land­fills at Rocky Moun­tain Arsenal Na­tional Wildlife Refuge in Com­merce City and that the same pro­to­cols would ap­ply to the for­mer in­dus­trial foot­print at Rocky Flats.

“There are land-use re­stric­tions on the De­part­ment of En­er­gyre­tained sec­tion,” he said.

Weiner is­sued a news re­lease ear­lier this week that stated

groups like the Rocky Moun­tain Peace and Jus­tice Cen­ter and Can­de­las Glows “ex­pressed alarm” at the prospect of a wildlife re­lo­ca­tion to Rocky Flats, which was first re­ported by the Long­mont Times-Call last month.

“Prairie dogs par­tic­u­larly cre­ate deep bur­rows and wide tun­nels, and build sur­face mounds by ac­cu­mu­lat­ing dirt from below ground and nearby sur­face area,” Weiner wrote. “There also are no bar­ri­ers to pre­vent the prairie dogs from migrating back and forth be­tween the refuge and the Cen­tral Oper­a­ble Unit, and then later leav­ing the site al­to­gether.”

But Carl Spreng, the Rocky Flats co­or­di­na­tor for the Colorado De­part­ment of Public Health and En­vi­ron­ment, said the po­ten­tial re­lo­cated colony would be placed “well away from any sub­sur­face sources.”

“DOE’s mon­i­tor­ing of prairie dogs will alert us well in ad­vance of move­ment to­wards those welli­den­ti­fied sub­sur­face con­tam­i­nants,” Spreng said.

More­over, he said the plu­to­nium “is typ­i­cally in­te­grated in or sealed onto con­crete that is part of a few buried build­ing foun­da­tions — and is there­fore in­ac­ces­si­ble to bur­row­ing an­i­mals.”

Lu­cas said no de­ci­sion has yet been made on whether to ac­cept the prairie dogs, which are be­ing dis­placed by a new de­vel­op­ment in Long­mont. Colorado Parks and Wildlife pro­ce­dures on wildlife re­lo­ca­tion would first need to be fol­lowed, he said, which in­cludes ap­proval from the Jef­fer­son County com­mis­sion­ers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.