After a tumultuous week that included an appellate court flip-flop over a last-minute injunction, a $10 million land swap designed to secure a crucial right-of-way for the Jefferson Parkway finally went through Monday, paving the way for the building of the controversial tollway.
The land transfer, billed by the federal government as a deal to preserve open space, involves trading a 617-acre parcel near the southwestern corner of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for a 300-foot-wide transportation right-of-way on the eastern edge of the site that runs parallel to Indiana Avenue.
The right-of-way is viewed as a critical piece of the proposed toll road, which proponents say will nearly complete a high-speed beltway around the Denver metro area. Opponents of the highway, though, contend that its construction could disturb plutonium-contaminated soil at the former nuclear weapons plant.
The transaction involves multiple local governments, including Boulder and Boulder County, as well as the Colorado State Land Board, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The deal's closing followed a week in which the town of Superior and environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Rocky Mountain Wild filed a motion seeking an emergency injunction to block the transfer after a federal judge dismissed their lawsuit seeking to block the land swap.
A three-judge panel on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction halting the transaction, but reversed the decision a day later after being swayed by the response from the U.S. Department of Justice.
'Still kind of reeling'
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians' climate and energy program director, said the deal's closing Monday is certainly a setback, but that his organization will continue to seek ways to fight the tollway.
"Nothing's been built yet, and we're going to continue to use every option available to us," he said. "We're still kind of reeling from last week. It was a bit of a roller coaster. We got the injunction and then it was lifted and we're still assessing where that leaves us. We're trying to figure out how to make the best of a bad situation.
"We're just kind of waiting and assessing what other angles we have."
The original lawsuit was intended to block the deal -- and, by extension, the parkway -- on grounds including the lack of a comprehensive environmental assessment of its impacts. Opponents say building the road along the route currently proposed, which skirts the eastern edge of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, could turn up soil laced with dangerous levels of plutonium in the area, which was the longtime site of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant.
'Great urban park'
Proponents of the deal lauded the swap as a big step in creating the Rocky Mountain Greenway, an uninterrupted trail and open space network that seeks to connect hundreds of miles of trails in the Denver metro area.
"Today's action will significantly expand one of the cornerstones of Colorado's open space and trails network and will protect the Front Range's mountain backdrop as one of the state's crown jewels," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement. "I applaud all the partners who have come together with the state and local communities to connect people to the great outdoors and to take this key step toward realizing the Rocky Mountain Greenway as America's next great urban park."
But Sandy Pennington, a member of the Superior board of trustees, said the focus should be on the danger of building the tollway.
"The issue should always have been the safety of building a four-lane highway on what we know to be plutonium-laden soil," she said. "We are definitely going to continue to discuss this and determine what we will do next."
The land deal's closing does not mean construction will begin immediately on the parkway. The next step is a meeting of the Jefferson Parkway Authority Board of Directors to see how they would prefer to proceed now that the land has been obtained.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329 or email@example.com. ___