“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
The famed, annual salmon fly hatch on our Big Hole River is wrapped up for another year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, it’s quite an event. Naturally speaking, the salmon fly hatch is that time of year when this giant stonefly species, Pteronarcys californica, which is three-plus inches long, crawls out of the water, hatches into an adult, mates and then returns to the water’s surface to lay its eggs, thus continuing the cycle. The hatch only occurs on a handful of Montana’s rivers, making it very special, both in nature and to the fly fisherman.
The deadline for the public to comment on the EPA’s revised cleanup plan for Butte’s urban Superfund site, Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit (BPSOU) was extended by 30 days. Last Tuesday, June 11 at close of business was supposed to be the deadline for citizens to submit comments to the agency. But before that original deadline expired, EPA announced an extension that gives folks now until July 11 (a Thursday) to weigh in.
One of the hottest topics of public discussion when it comes to the proposed plan for cleaning up Butte’s urban Superfund site is the waiver for copper and zinc levels during storms. I’ve already covered this waiver in a couple of my previous columns, so I won’t go into great detail again. But the long story short is that instead of our creeks being required to meet state water quality standards for both dissolved and particulate substances (in this case, copper and zinc), they are required to meet the federal standards, which only apply to the dissolved fraction. Both standards are protective of humans and the environment.
My last few columns have focused on some of the more technical nuts and bolts of Superfund. This past Saturday (May 17) was the opening day of Montana’s general fishing season. So, this week, I’m switching topic to the “rods and reels” of Superfund. Time to get our “fish on!”