Toll Road OK’d Through Wildlife Refuge

     DENVER (CN) – Despite objections from environmentalists, the 10th Circuit on Friday cleared construction of a parkway along the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.
     The proposed Jefferson Parkway does not violate the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Act, the National Environment Policy Act, or the Endangered Species Act, the three-judge panel ruled, affirming the District Court ruling.
     The 10-mile tollway will run from Broomfield to Golden.
     WildEarth Guardians and Rocky Mountain Wild and the cities of Superior and Golden objected in 2012 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted a right-of-way through the refuge for a four-lane highway.
     The land had been used to develop nuclear weapons, and the Department of Energy enacted a massive cleanup to rid it of plutonium in 1989.
     After the cleanup, the Department of Energy handed over the land to the Fish and Wildlife Service, which “engineered a complicated deal amongst a number of different parties in which it added some land to the refuge but transferred a roughly 300-foot-wide, 100-acre strip of land to a consortium of local governments that planned to construct a parkway as part of a mostly-completed beltway encircling the Denver metropolitan area,” 10th Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes wrote for the court.
     The appellants claimed that Fish and Wildlife violated federal procedures in allocating the land for the parkway, compromising human safety and the survival of the endangered Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse.
     The 10th Circuit struck down all appellants’ claims, affirming the district court ruling in its entirety.
     “Congress clearly passed the Rocky Flats Act with the intent, in part, to relieve the burden on transportation in the area,” Holmes wrote in the 53-page ruling.
     Although the Act explicitly granted the Department of Energy the right to convey the land for transportation use after cleanup, it also instructed the Department to hand the land over to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
     Appellants argued that only the Department of Energy had the right to authorize a road. Judge Holmes disagreed.
     “As Appellants see it, the Rocky Flats Act gives Energy the authority to convey the corridor for transportation improvements until the area is fully clean and a refuge … at which point no one has that conveyance authority and the corridor can never be subject to transportation improvements,” Holmes wrote. “But Appellants offer no reason why Congress would limit the possibility of transportation improvements to such a narrow window (before the cleanup is completed) and then close it forever thereafter. Such a system would certainly not further the congressional purpose of allowing for long-term improvements to local traffic patterns.”
     Claims based on the National Environment Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act also failed.
     Fish and Wildlife depended on the Environmental Protection Agency’s assurance that plutonium pollution had fallen below dangerous levels in the area. Holmes rejected appellants’ claims that the EPA did not take the construction project into account in its report, finding that the EPA “explicitly confirmed that such posed no risk of exposing anyone to an unacceptable level of radioactive material.”
     “We have no reason to doubt the EPA’s logic, nor fault the Service for relying on it,” Holmes wrote.
     Fish and Wildlife took into consideration the survival of the endangered Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse, and found that the project “would not jeopardize the continued existence of the mouse or adversely modify its critical habitat,” according to the ruling.
     A date for groundbreaking has not yet been set.

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