A Feb. 25 city council meeting in Broomfield attracted residents from across the Denver area, with individuals from Arvada, Jefferson County, Longmont, Boulder and Aurora addressing a council that …
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A Feb. 25 city council meeting in Broomfield attracted residents from across the Denver area, with individuals from Arvada, Jefferson County, Longmont, Boulder and Aurora addressing a council that held pieces of the Jefferson Parkway’s future in its hands.
And at the end of the meeting, the council sided with many of the residents who spoke, unanimously voting to cut its ties with the project.
“Although many questions remain in my mind, it’s prudent for us right now to withdraw,” said Broomfield councilmember Stan Jezierski. “The longer we wait to make a decision, we’ll be incurring additional obligations. We’re at a point right now where it sounds like we’re in or we’re out.”
The Jefferson Parkway is a proposed 10-mile toll road, to run through northwest Arvada and connect state highways 93 and 128, with part of the road adjacent to the former site of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. The plant was shut down in 1989 after multiple incidents, including spills and fires, contaminated the site’s soil with plutonium.
The government ordered a nuclear waste clean-up that concluded in 2005, but today, some concerned residents say construction of the proposed road would stir up plutonium that was buried as part of the clean-up. Particles of plutonium have been shown to cause cancer when inhaled.
Some of the entities behind the parkway have also voiced this concern. The project is a collaboration between Arvada, Jefferson County and Broomfield, each of which have contributed millions of dollars to the project so far.
The three governments make up the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority, or JPPHA. As of Dec. 2019, JPPHA had collectively invested about $16 million into the parkway since 2008, according to JPPHA executive director Bill Ray.
Residents’ concerns about safety prompted JPPHA to conduct a soil sampling study of the area beginning May 2019. Three months into the study, JPPHA reported to the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) that one sample had tested for 264 pCi/g of plutonium, while the established safety standard is 50 pCi/g.
A second test of the same sample showed a much lower result at 2 pCi/g, and no other so-called plutonium hotspots were found throughout the course of the study. All samples are now collected, with the CDPHE preparing to issue its final report in the spring, CDPHE’s Laura Dixon said in a previous interview.
But that original result of 264 pCi/g remained at the forefront of Broomfield councilmembers’ minds, becoming the primary reason the council held its vote Feb. 25.
Some who spoke at the meeting, like Longmont resident Chris Allred, urged the council to show it prioritized public safety by voting to withdraw.
“This affects so many different communities and it affects people’s health. The only way we can reconcile that is by acknowledging what it is and taking responsible steps,” Allred said. “It gives other governments the courage to take responsible steps.”
But two residents asked if Broomfield’s withdrawal could potentially work against public safety.
“It is short-sighted to withdraw. Broomfield should use its authority and influence as much as it can” and potentially get the parkway rerouted away from Rocky Flats, said Broomfield resident James Marsh-Holschen.
Councilmembers acknowledged this concern when giving their final comments.
“I serve on the JPPHA board. Sure, we have a seat, but that seat has been relegated to the kids’ table,” said councilmember Heidi Henkel. “In my experience, we will always be outvoted (by other JPPHA members). They will continue to use our money for the route they have their eyes set on.”
The council voted unanimously to notify JPPHA of their withdrawal, after which JPPHA will inform Broomfield of the cost associated with breaking its contract.
“It is disappointing that Broomfield made this decision without the benefit of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s analysis that is expected in April,” said a Feb. 26 JPPHA statement. “CDPHE has long been the lead agency monitoring public health and safety around Rocky Flats.”
Arvada mayor Marc Williams said while the JPPHA could move forward with only the two partners, the authority and governments will need to discuss the economic feasibility of that option.
“This is very disappointing,” he said of the Broomfield decision. “I’m not going to ignore the fact we had an anomalous test sample, but I think there were ways to deal with that. To simply pull out is not the way to deal with that. There was absolutely no negotiation.”
He said safety has been one of the authority’s primary concerns, with the JPPHA willing to take any remedial steps recommended by the CDPHE. He also questioned Henkel’s comment that Broomfield would consistently be outvoted by Arvada and Jefferson County,
As far as the effects of Broomfield’s withdrawal, the authority plans to “contemplate the next steps for the parkway,” the JPPHA statement said.
So far, “the impacts of Broomfield’s withdrawal is mostly unknown,” said Arvada resident Brett Vernon, cofounder of community group Neighbors of the Parkway.
The withdrawal may affect potential plans to link the parkway to the Northwest Parkway, he pointed out.
Williams agreed, saying that while that route could go forward with or without Broomfield’s participation, the option may hurt traffic on SH 128 and nearby roads, which Broomfield would not be prepared for if it is not involved in the planning.
Broomfield’s decision also puts “more pressure for pre-construction funding on Arvada and Jeffco,” Vernon said. Most immediately, JPPHA had asked Broomfield to contribute an additional $2.5 million for the project, which Broomfield had not yet provided at the time of the vote.
Additionally, if Broomfield’s withdrawal ultimately causes the project to fall through, Arvada and Jefferson County will have spent millions on a project that never comes to fruition, said Broomfield councilmember William Lindstedt.
“On one hand, we’re balancing public safety and on the other, we’re balancing our future transportation and the finances of our neighboring county,” he said. “It’s a hard decision, but the right thing to do is to not risk public safety.”
Should the project continue, several funding options would be on the table, Williams said. The authority will consider cutting some costs; asking the private partner who builds the parkway to contribute more than its original ask of more than $200 million; or requesting more money from Jefferson County and Arvada.
Arvada has always contributed to JPPHA through its general fund, Williams said, and would only consider providing the extra funds if the city could still “stay true to our commitment of having a balanced 10-year budget,” he said.
A final option would be to postpone the project or consider another transportation solution.
“If it’s determined we can’t go forward at this time, we still own the right of way, and we’ve got to address our traffic congestion issues,” Williams said. “Just because our friends in Broomfield have said they don’t want to be a part of it anymore doesn’t mean we’ll just stop. We’ll still have something.”
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