West metro area highway project faces setback after plutonium found

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FILE – This Aug. 11, 2017, file photo shows a “No Trespassing” sign hanging on a fence surrounding part of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver. Rocky Flats was once the site of a plant that made plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. The U.S. Interior Department says it will go ahead with plans to open a wildlife refuge at the site of the former nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, after briefly putting the opening on hold amid concerns about public safety. Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is scheduled to open Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Dan Elliott, File)

DENVER  |  A planned highway that would complete a belt route around the Denver area has seen a major setback after a city pulled out over elevated plutonium levels found in soil along the route near a former nuclear weapons plant.

The Broomfield City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw from the $250 million project.

State officials said in August that a soil test found plutonium levels five times higher than the cleanup standard, but a second test found much lower levels.

“After that soil sample, I think it would be irresponsible to move forward with this alignment,” Councilman William Lindstedt said.

Broomfield, Jefferson County and Arvada have been part of the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority since it was formed in 2008. The highway project would run from Arvada and along the eastern border of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to Broomfield, where motorists could connect with the existing Northwest Parkway.

The Rocky Flats plant made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads from 1952 until 1989. Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was created on the former buffer zone around the perimeter of the site. The center of the site, where the plutonium is handled, is closed to the public.

The date of Broomfield’s exit from the project is unclear because the council must notify the board of the highway authority of its decision.

“If approved by the Broomfield council, the request will be considered by the authority members pursuant to negotiation under the terms of the authority’s establishing contract,” authority Executive Director Bill Ray told The Denver Post.

He didn’t say how the project will go forward without Broomfield’s participation.