“Restoring Butte” is my effort to help make sense of all the environmental issues and goings-on in Butte, starting and ending with Superfund. Regarding the cleanup here in Butte, this work started more than 30 years ago, so there’s lots of history and still, plenty more to come. I’m also interested in environmental and resource issues and Superfund topics outside of the Clark Fork River basin and Montana – a very broad canvas, indeed! Most of what I cover will be from a factual standpoint, as “news,” so to speak.
I will also occasionally offer my opinions based on my experience. I will do my best to let you know when my content is coming from the direction of news or editorial.
I strongly believe it’s important to learn the facts and let those form the basis of an educated opinion. Likewise, before I offer my advice or opinion, I want readers to know where I’m coming from, so I’ll start with the news approach.
What do I know?
I have a degree in chemistry from Montana Tech and 25 years working in a variety of positions on the Clark Fork Superfund sites and environmental issues in a variety of positions. I’m an award-winning educator and journalist. I’m a published author and former elected official. I’ve served on various public boards and non-profits, including sportsmen and conservation groups. Most recently, I’ve been involved with the Butte cleanup negotiations as the past Chief Executive of Butte-Silver Bow, as well as in a consulting role. I also get to stay involved in the public service sector as one of four citizen appointees to the Montana Environmental Quality Council.
It is from this broad perspective which I hope to share knowledge and educated opinions – on Superfund, restoration, environmental issues and more topics along these lines. I look forward to sharing and interacting with you in discussion. Please don’t hesitate to send me your questions and comments, or any ideas you’d like me to consider in a future post. Send me an email at email@example.com
Saturday, September 14, at Noon at the Lexington Mine Yard in Walkerville, is our city’s chance to get busy planting some more new trees for the future. It’s a free, family-friendly event led by Butte-Silver Bow (BSB) local government and Montana Tech’s Native Plant/Restoration Ecology program. This is the second tree-planting event this year. Back in April, 120 volunteers planted 1,000 small trees and shrubs in less than an hour. Come green up Butte’s future!
Superfund has had its grip, so to speak on Butte, Anaconda and the Upper Clark Fork River basin for over 30 years. Over $2 billion is spent to date cleaning up and restoring the watershed, from the top of the hill in Walkerville to the removal of the Milltown Dam over a hundred miles away near Missoula. The work has been completed in fits and starts, for sure. And even though it hasn’t been perfect, Superfund is arguably as vital to Montana’s economy as it is to our environment.
Tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a perennial bunchgrass native to Montana and most of the U.S. It is known regionally within the Upper Clark Fork Superfund site for its unique tolerance to grow in highly acidic and heavy metals-laden tailings deposits. These two photos show a stand of tufted hairgrass growing along a tailings berm on Blacktail Creek and a few, tough individual plants sprouted from the vertical walls of the Silver Bow Creek “slag canyon.”
“A plant for better or for worse.” So named because once you have it growing, “you’re married to it,” Matrimony Vine (Lycium barbarum) is a sprawling, thorny bush that grows in Butte where most other plants cannot. I’ve seen it growing on mine dumps, in tailings, on bedrock outcrops, on steep, bone-dry hillsides and along disturbed roadways or streambanks. While most noxious weeds detract from wildlife habitat, this plant is actually a favorite of local birds and pollinators and even small mammals, as it creates thickets of vegetation to hide in where nothing else can grow.
Where did the myth that Butte is the headwaters come from?
While it’s not certain, the most likely individual to blame for misinforming us is copper king William A. Clark. When Clark built the once famous Columbia Gardens amusement park here, he named it in honor of Butte’s location (in his estimation) as the headwaters to the Columbia River. Keeping in mind that Clark also bribed his way into Congress and once boasted it was the arsenic in the air from his smelters that gave Butte’s ladies of the period their lovely complexion, it’s understandable how he might have gotten a few other things miserably wrong.
Superfund revegetation isn’t your standard landscaping. Don’t expect to see a county worker mowing and manicuring the grass like you see being done at the park or on a golf course. Also, don’t expect to see the reclaimed areas in Butte being irrigated. While many of the plants that grow on these sites are beautiful (like bird’s foot trefoil in the photo), they have a job to do, first and foremost.
The Berkeley Pit viewing stand ordinarily sees as many as 300 visitors each day when it’s open, making up for around 35,000 visits a year. A couple of weeks ago, there was one “out of the ordinary” new development at the viewing stand.
Here In “Butte America” we live with Superfund everyday, but it does not define us. This photo shows the “Field of Honor” from 2015, which sits atop the reclaimed cap on the Belmont Mine. Not only does the cap serve a new purpose, but the Belmont engine room now serves as Butte’s Senior Citizen Center, where hundreds of the Mining City’s seniors gather each week for lunch and life. In fact, the grassy amphitheater in front of the Original stage where thousands of visitors danced and enjoyed the music of the Montana Folk Festival last week is yet another example of a Superfund cap. For the most part in Butte, we’ve got Superfund well covered!
“…It’s encouraging how much Butte’s Superfund reclamation programs and practices have evolved and improved. The rudimentary “waste in place” actions of the 1980s, which drew little public support and much concern can now be considered best-in-practice for mine reclamation and should leave the public with much less to worry about. Simply put, in 2019 reclamation in Butte has become a “breeze.”’
“The Quintessential Judy Jacobson.” This photo hangs among the portraits of other past Chief Executives in the offices at Butte’s courthouse. None of her executive colleagues are as elegantly posed or poised as Judy.