Reinforcements Are Coming in the Grassroots Fight Against I-70 Expansion

Globeville Landing Park, getting prepped to be dug up in February. Image: Ditch the Ditch
Globeville Landing Park, getting prepped to be dug up in February. Image: Ditch the Ditch

The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice has joined the Elyria Swansea Neighborhood Association in the fight against a wider I-70, granting $5,000 to the cause.

CHEJ is based in Falls Church, Virginia, but has national reach. Environmental health activist Lois Marie Gibbs founded the organization after a successful campaign to get New York state to clean up the Love Canal site in the 1970s. The state had insisted for years that an industrial dumping ground in Niagara Falls had nothing to do with elevated rates of childhood illness and birth defects. Gibbs led the fight to protect people from pollutants at Love Canal and became known as the “Mother of Superfund,” the federal program for remediating toxic sites.

The new grant won’t fund litigation against the I-70 project — though legal action is still likely — but will rather amplify the message of Denverites already fighting the project.

“Local residents are the most qualified environmental police CHEJ knows,” Gibbs said in a statement.

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s plan to push more cars through the mostly Latino, low-income neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea, requires digging a 40-foot ditch. To protect that ditch from flooding, the Hancock administration and Denver City Council made a deal with CDOT: They put Denver taxpayers on the hook for widening I-70 in exchange for flood protection work.

Nearby residents are concerned about the environmental implications of both projects. In addition to the traffic and pollution that come from widening a highway, there’s toxic soil — rife with lead and arsenic — at the site of the outfall project, which is part of a federal Superfund site [PDF]. All this in the most polluted populated area in the United States.

“We just don’t have faith that CDOT, the city, or the [Environmental Protection Agency] has followed required procedures, or that they’ll follow the rules in the future,” ESNA President Drew Dutcher told Streetsblog.

Feeding that distrust, Dutcher said, is the fact that CDOT decided against a prior version of the I-70 ditch because of “unacceptable effects on aquatic and ecological resources and increased potential for encountering contaminated groundwater or soils,” according to a 2008 environmental impact statement (page 3-17). He wants to know what’s changed.

The city is trying to “control the public image” of the projects, Dutcher said, and the grant will counteract that by boosting the research and outreach efforts of north Denver residents.

“We really feel that we’re being spoon-fed information by the city and EPA, and we need resources to just look at all the work that’s being done, how it’s being monitored, what are the possible hazards,” Dutcher said. “So it’s really just kind of a citizen-led effort to understand everything that’s going on.”


  • TakeFive

    through the mostly Latino, low-income neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea,

    Given that their zip code (80239) is the hottest real estate neighborhood in the country jumping 27% last year, you have to wonder about the impact of gentrification.

    • BHG

      …except that’s not the zip code for Globeville, Elyria and Swansea. That would be 80216.

      • TakeFive

        Oops, Thanks for catching that; I (obviously) got my wires crossed mis-remembering what I had read where. Instead it was an article by Mark Harden in the DBJ over the environmental risks:

        (and yet home prices are soaring) … Denver’s 80216 also has by far the highest five-year home price appreciation of the top 10 neighborhoods, at 250.2 percent, with ZIP code 92408 in San Bernardino, California, a distant second

        • BHG

          So the home prices in 80216 rose the highest among the 10 zip codes with the most environmental hazards. Interesting fact, but I’m not sure what it has to do with the income and ethnicity of the people who live there, or the CHEJ organization giving the neighborhood association a cool 5 g’s to fight the freeway expansion. “Gentrification”, maybe?

          • TakeFive

            Yes, based on my original comment, the fact that home values are up 250% could easily mean that the trend is not your friend if you don’t like gentrification.

          • fpfrainaguirre

            I know of at least one home that was assessed $50,000 over the 2014 assessment. That is NOT 250% of the assessment from two years ago. Where do you get your figures? I live in Sunnyside and our house assessment went up $151,000. and that is up 33% not 250%!

          • TakeFive

            Per my comment I quoted the DBJ; see link given.

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  • SammyDEEEE

    The focus should honestly be on ensuring the mitigation promised is what’s actually done. This project is happening, but making sure CDOT and the city do what they say they’re going to do should be the priority for these neighborhood groups.
    The original sin happened decades ago when the highway was put through town. You can’t put that toothpaste back in the tube, unfortunately.

    • Nick

      Dallas, which is highway city, seems to disagree with your last statement. Wholeheartedly it seems.

      • Bernard Finucane

        So do large swatches of Europe which were bombed flat in WWII and then rebuilt.

      • TakeFive

        Regarding major, critical, freight corridor freeways, Dallas would have had this freeway rebuilt a decade ago which is what CDOT should have done. How familiar with Dallas area freeways are you?

    • mckillio

      Buffalo and San Francisco disagree too. But I do agree that this seems very much inevitable at this point.

  • Vooch

    the blight of All urban highways should be removed and pre-existing street network restored

  • Vooch



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