Tue April 17, 2012

"They Started It..." Tensions Flare Over Proposed Jefferson Parkway

What happens when a county wants to take over land from a city, and that city resists? It’s a question that has been playing out between Jefferson County and Golden for decades. And now the battle has escalated all the way to the Colorado State House.

Possible legislation has surfaced that, if passed, would create a governmental agency with the power to condemn both public and private land. While there is not a sponsor for the bill, a draft has been obtained by KUNC [.pdf].

The bill is part of recent attempts by Jefferson County to finish the final leg of the so-called “Jefferson Parkway Toll Road” that would complete the 470 beltway around Denver. But in order to do so they would need a roughly 22 mile stretch of land running through a scenic area just outside of Golden.

And according to Golden City Manager Mike Bestor, it’s land the city doesn’t want to give up.

“The history of Golden and all of Jefferson County with this parkway goes back to the 1980’s when the W-470 proposal went before the voters and was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters.”

The bill stirring up the recent controversy is called the Beltway Economic Enhancement Project Act, or BEEP for short. It would create an 18 person authority made up of representatives from interested parties including the towns of Morrison, Lakewood and Golden to oversee the completion of the toll road. It would also include a member from the Colorado Department of Transportation. Supporters say it would oversee the issue on a regional level.

But for Bestor, the bill is nothing more than a tramping of Golden’s sovereign right over public and private land within its boundaries.

“It is such an overreaching grab for power away from local government, and that’s not what this country is founded on. We had the revolution in 1776 because we wanted to be governed close to the citizens and not from across the ocean.”

Donald Rosier, who’s a Jefferson County Commissioner and member of the Jefferson Parkway Authority, says not so fast.

“That is not the intent. The intent is only for beltway improvements. It’s not for doing a grab in any other way. That is not the intent…well, maybe there should be come clarification of that.”

Rosier, who helped draft the proposal, says the City of Golden has been the roadblock to completing the beltway. And while he understands airing dirty laundry in public isn’t good for anyone’s agenda - introducing legislation was a last ditch effort to end the impasse between the county and the city.

“Airing dirty laundry has already been done. Golden has attacked really the entire region and the state by walking away from the negotiation table. They thumbed their nose at the Governor, [and] at CDOT. They didn’t negotiate in good faith…when you look at it, they started it. I hate to say that, but in essence, I want to complete the road and do the best job possible…I do not believe the citizens of Golden have been given all the information. I don’t believe the City Manager, nor has the Mayor been transparent with them.”

Golden City Manager Mike Bestor says they left the table not out of spite, but because issues concerning the city have not been adequately addressed.

“Golden’s a small community, and in a long narrow valley. The impacts of a major super slab running down through this valley, will be huge. And the noise impacts, the air pollution impacts, and the traffic impacts will be huge. So anything built to enhance the flow of traffic through Golden has to be done in a very environmentally friendly way. ”

And it’s not just Golden concerned with the toll road.  Lawsuits have been filed by environmental groups to halt construction of the road, saying it could destroy endangered watersheds. And recent studies have raised fears over plutonium dust that may be kicked up as the road is built through a part of the former Rocky Flats Nuclear facility. 

The fate of the bill creating a “Beltway Completion Authority” remains unclear. However, with it being introduced so late in the legislative session, it appears to have little chance of moving forward.  In the meantime, the City of Golden says it will continue to work with other cities in the area like Superior to fight off creation of the toll road in favor of its own traffic mitigation and reduction plan.