by Larry Hotz, All Denver Real Estate
A proposed 80-acre park at Lowry in Denver was sold to a private development company for only $10 when the City expressed concerns about dangerous pollution at the former Air Force base landfill.
Lowry Vista is located in the former Lowry Air Force Base which is now a thriving residential “new town” with homes, condo, shops and open spaces in the heart of Denver itself. But, this parcel has a checkered history including the dumping of chemical and possibly radioactive waste.
Let’s start with a fact. The land was sold to The International Risk Group, LLC of Littleton in 2006 for $10. How could that happen? And, what is happening now with the parcel that will now become another development project?
Not all the facts are clear. But some things are known. First, Denver government rejected developing the park when it became known that the site was potentially contaminated with radioactivity and chemicals. It had been a dump for the Air Force when it used nuclear warheads on missiles pointed to the other side of the planet. There is no direct evidence that nuclear material was dumped here but there are significant radiation readings at the surface.
Denver may not have wanted the clean-up expense and possibly the liability of operating a potential safety hazard as a park or golf course. The Air Force had previously refused to clean up the mess beyond placing dirt over it as a dirt cap.
Enter a newly-formed, limited liability, private company called the International Risk Group. It was formed by many of the largest names in defense such as Lockheed Martin, Rockwell International and other private companies who themselves may have had hazardous waste problems. The mission of the new company was to acquire polluted properties and turn them into profitable ventures. That’s what they did when Denver refused to build the park over the hazardous waste, which included not only the possible radioactive materials but also cancer-causing chemicals like TCE.
The Lowry Redevelopment Authority which controls the master plan for the community decided on an alternative course of action. First, it along with the Air Force decided to cap the hazardous waste landfill with dirt in 2003. This was done to provide some degree of protection to the environment. Then, it made the deal with the International Risk Group to sell the property for development at the unusually low price of $10.
So what plan is there to clean up the waste and what is the development plan? Two presentations were made to Lowry residents last month by IRG. They explained their plans for future development which include the building of residential units as well as commercial shops, stores and space for professional services. They did mention that their plan would include some “hard-cap” but did not specify how much.
The only problem is what will happen to the waste and environmental hazards which are trapped below the dirt cap? There is the plan to add a “hard cap” over the dirt cap. But, all that amounts to is using cement or asphalt on top of the dirt.
According to the Colorado Department of Health that dirt cap is currently 2 feet deep and is scheduled to run as an environmental easement with the property for at least 30 years. The easement also provides that no structures can be erected on the property because of the danger of the sub-surface contamination. However, The Department has been told that the International Risk group will be submitting a new plan “soon”. The Department says such a plan would be required to have a “hard cap” to be considered for development. Such a cap would consist of cement asphalt to further isolate the dangerous chemicals. So far, there is no mention of whether or not ventilation of buildings would be required to mitigate the possibility of indoor contamination. Also, there has been no plan to mitigate any possible radon gas inside buildings. Radon gas is a common by-product of radioactive soil.
“Is the there any concern about radioactivity in the landfill?”, I asked a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Health. “Yes, we are concerned the Air Force may have dumped some uranium there but so far it appears the readings we are getting are just naturally occurring uranium background readings.”
The spokeswoman also said that there is no concern the Department has about any plutonium dumping at Lowry Vista.
By the way, International Risk Group failed to return our phone calls to answer our questions about their view of necessary mitigation of the environmental risks and how much of the landfill will be “hard-capped” with cement or asphalt. Here is their explanation of the landfill and its risks which is found on its website.