Montana Public Radio

Richest Hill

If you don’t know Butte Montana, you might have heard it’s one of the biggest toxic messes in the country. But now the “mining city” is on the verge of sealing a deal that could clean it up once and for all.

So how did we get here? What comes after Superfund? And who gets to decide?

Find out on Richest Hill, a new podcast from Montana Public Radio coming in early 2019.

Recently, we let the cat out of the bag and told you that Butte’s Superfund parties reached a very big deal; one that will clean up the Mining City forever. That sounds like good news, and I hope it is. But as someone who lives right in the heart of a Superfund megasite, lately I’ve been experiencing some cognitive dissonance.

During his reign, President Trump has radically transformed the Environmental Protection Agency. I haven’t known how to square the EPA's cheerleading on Superfund with the Trump Administration’s overall track record on the environment, and whether all the action we’re seeing in Butte, Montana is the Superfund exception, or the rule.

After reporting on Superfund for several years, it’s obvious to me that everyone here wants the best possible cleanup for their town. And, there are very different definitions of what that means.

A lot of folks in Butte are fired up about bringing a stretch of the long-dead Silver Bow Creek back to life. And on the surface, I get it. Superfund is huge and complicated, full of thousands of pages of technical documents, and abstract legal requirements like water quality standards. Whereas a beautiful free flowing stream? That’s something tangible, easy to get jazzed up about.

Uptown Butte, MT.
Mike Albans / Montana Public Radio

This season on Richest Hill you’ve been hearing all about what mining meant for Butte, the toxic legacy it left behind, and about sprawling efforts to clean it up that have spanned more than 30 years.

And this week, something big is gonna happen.

After more than 30 years in limbo without a final cleanup agreement, the ink is drying on Butte’s big Superfund deal as we speak. What it means and why it matters has everything to do with what played out when Superfund came to Montana’s Mining City. So today we’re asking: back in those early days of Superfund, who were the players, and what was the game?

This is episode 06: Our Most Cherished Beliefs.

From Evel Knievel to a 'Great Flood' and on to the dawning of the Superfund era, Episode 5 looks at the origins of the government program designed to force whoever made the mess to clean it up.

I live a mile away from the Berkeley Pit, the mile by mile and a half wide former open-pit mine, which is now filled with a 50 billion gallon toxic lake. Every time I visit, I leave hyper aware of the contradictions and compromises that go hand in glove with industrialization. I find myself wondering: who thought chiseling a colossal hole in the Earth was a good idea, and why? So today, let’s take a dive, figuratively, into open pit mining and some controversial decisions made late last century that changed Butte’s land, people, and environmental legacy forever. This is Episode 4: We Gave it to the Pit.

BT Livermore,"maker of things and provder of services," designed the Richest Hill logo, and does lots of other creative work in the Mining City.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

We're hard at work on episode 4 of Richest Hill, and still covering lots of Superfund news in Butte right now. In the mean time, meet one of the artists who's contributed to this project behind the scenes.

BT Livermore,"maker of things and provider of services," designed the Richest Hill logo, and does lots of other creative work in the Mining City. He explains the thinking behind the logo, and why he feels a sense of hope in Butte.

In August 1917, Frank Little was the victim of a grisly murder in Butte. Little was a labor organizer who came to Butte to unify and radicalize Butte’s miners in their fight against the Anaconda Mining Company for higher wages and safer working conditions. Most historians believe that the Anaconda Company was behind Little’s killing, but no one knows for sure. A note pinned to his underwear threatened, "Others take notice: first and last warning," along with the numbers 3-7-77, the calling card of frontier vigilantes.

Who was Frank Little? And what could his grisly murder more than a century ago possibly have to do with Butte’s Superfund cleanup? Find out on Episode 3, coming soon.
(PD)

Hey there loyal Richest Hill listeners, Nora Saks here. I wanted to let you know that we’re hard at work on Episode 3.

Who was Frank Little? And what could his grisly murder more than a century ago possibly have to do with Butte’s Superfund cleanup? That’s one of the questions we’ll be asking in Episode 3, which is coming at you the first week of April. Stay with us for more about Butte's past, present and future!

At first glance, Butte, Montana's mutilated industrial landscape is often written-off as an ecological sacrifice-zone. Dirty, ugly as sin and regrettable, but necessary to supply the country with perhaps the most basic necessity of the Electrical Age: Copper. But if you take the time to really look carefully, what you find here will challenge, surprise and even change you.

Take a closer look at the copper that put the Richest Hill on the map; the city's storied past; and the nostalgia and sense of purpose that pervade the Mining City, right now on Richest Hill episode two.

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