US to open wildlife refuge at ex-nuke site despite concern for public safety

The U.S. Interior Department said Friday (local time) it will go ahead with plans to open a wildlife refuge at the site of a former nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, after briefly putting the opening on hold amid concerns about public safety.

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, on the perimeter of a government factory that made plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs, is scheduled to open Saturday.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke initially said Friday he would delay the opening to gather more information about safety.

The announcement came after Colorado Democratic congressman Jared Polis, who is running for governor, wrote Zinke expressing concerns that plutonium testing on the site was outdated and asking him to postpone the opening until new tests could be done.

Just one hour later, Zinke spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said a review was complete and the refuge would open.

Vander Voort said the review was done by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, the No. 2 leader at the department. Vander Voort did not provide any details of the review and did not immediately respond to an email seeking more information.

The Rocky Flats plutonium plant stopped work in 1989 after a 34-year history marred by fires, leaks and spills. It was shut down during a criminal investigation into environmental violations.

Rockwell International, the contractor then operating the plant, pleaded guilty in 1992 to charges that included allowing leaks of chemical and radioactive material and illegally disposing hazardous waste. The company was fined $18.5 million.

The plutonium plant was cleaned up at a cost of $7 billion, but it remains off-limits to the public.

The 8-square-mile (21-kilometer) buffer zone surrounding the manufacturing site was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a refuge.

Some groups worry that plutonium particles eluded the cleanup and could be sprinkled over the refuge, where hikers and cyclists could inadvertently stir them up or track them home.

Five environmental and community activist groups sued the government in May, arguing the refuge should remain closed until more testing is done.

Last month, a judge rejected their request to delay the opening while the lawsuit is heard. The lawsuit is pending in Denver federal court.

"My head is spinning," said Randall Weiner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, after the Interior Department's rapid reversal Friday.

"It seems like the (deputy) secretary did an awfully quick study to address the questions raised by Rep. Polis," he said.

Until this weekend, the only way to visit the refuge was to sign up for a short hike, guided by a Fish and Wildlife Service officer, offered once a month.

The agency plans to open about 16 kilometres of trails this weekend that will be open seven days a week. Visitors will be told to stay on the trails or roads.

The U.S. Interior Department said it would open the wildlife refuge after briefly putting the opening on hold amid concerns about public safety. Source: Associated Press



Queensland shark bite victims remain in hospital

A woman and a little girl bitten by a shark at the same location but in separate attacks in Queensland remain in hospital.

Hannah Papps, who lives in Melbourne with her Kiwi parents, was holidaying with her father and sister when she received a life-threatening wound to her right leg on Thursday while swimming in shallow water in Cid Harbour.

Her attack came after Tasmanian mother of two, Justine Barwick, 46, was bitten on her left thigh while snorkelling in the same area less than 24 hours earlier.

Both have now been transferred to hospitals in Brisbane where the 12-year-old is in a critical but stable condition and Ms Barwick was last known to be stable.

"We would like to thank everyone who has helped and cared for Hannah, including the police, emergency services and the hospital teams," her family said in a statement on Friday.

“We ask that everyone, including the media, please respect our family's privacy during this very difficult time so we can focus our energies on Hannah's recovery.”

Three baited hooks set by the Fisheries Department in the harbour on Friday will remain in place for at least a week as authorities try to catch a shark or sharks responsible.

It is the first-time baited hooks have been used in the popular Whitsundays holiday destination, where the tourism industry is still recovering following Cyclone Debbie in 2017.

The girl is Hannah Papps, who lives in Melbourne with her New Zealand parents. Source: 1 NEWS


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Obama in Pennsylvania, hoping to boost Democrats

Former US President Barack Obama turned his political attention to Pennsylvania today, a state Donald Trump won in 2016.

Obama campaigned in Philadelphia with two leading Democrats running for re-election, Governor Tom Wolf and US Senator Bob Casey.

At a campaign rally at the Dell Music Centre in Philadelphia, Obama implored Pennsylvanians to vote in November because the election was more consequential than any he could remember.

During the speech, Obama made no mention of his successor in the White House by name, but urged voters of all parties - not just Democrats - to vote to restore honesty, decency and lawfulness to government.

In the November 6 contests, Democrats are trying to oust Republicans in four U.S. House districts and more than a dozen state legislative seats in the Philadelphia area alone.

Obama twice carried Pennsylvania in his presidential races, and Democrats hope the state can help them retake control of Congress from the GOP.

Democrats in other states where Obama has campaigned recently say his stops have drawn big crowds, giving the party a chance to organise, update voter contact lists, motivate new donors and boost volunteerism.

Obama planned a fundraiser after the Philadelphia rally.

Donald Trump won the state in the 2016 election. Source: Associated Press


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Most watched: US man who impregnated 10-year-old girl given 160 years behind bars

This story was first published on Saturday September 23.

Nicholas Deon Thrash

An Indiana man has been sentenced to more than 100 years in jail for molesting a 10-year-old girl multiple times leading to her becoming pregnant.

Fox News reports that Nicholas Deon Thrash, 34, of Marion, Indiana was given 160 years in jail with a minimum service of 132 years yesterday.

Last month during his trial Thrash was found guilty of 10 counts of child molestation.

In a testimony his 10-year-old victim testified that she had been molested by Thrash at least 15 times.

The mother of the girl is facing charges of neglect, aiding in child molesting and assisting a criminal over the case.

She reportedly discovered her daughter's pregnancy when the 10-year-old was trying on dresses for a school dance and instructed the girl to say a schoolmate impregnated her.

Prosecutors told Fox News that the girl gave birth to a boy in September 2017 when she was 11-years-old.

Thrash remains in the Grant County Jail.


Watch: US police officer's heroics saves woman from being hit by a truck

Newly released dash-camera video is showing a close call for a police officer in Anna, Texas saving a woman from being hit by a pickup truck.

The woman had been in a minor accident, with her car stopped on the side of the road.

Officer Brandon Blair stopped to help her. 

As they were talking, the driver of a pickup truck lost control on the same curve. 

The officer's dash camera showed him pulling the woman out of the way just in time.

Newly released dash-camera video is showing a close call for a police officer in Texas, who saved a woman from being hit by a truck. Source: Associated Press


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