Montana Public Radio

Butte Montana

A massive front end loader deposits the first shovels of dirt removed from the Parrot tailings site into a dump truck at the old ball field behind the Civic Center in Butte, June 2018.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

A major mine waste cleanup in central Butte is entering a new phase of tailings removal in February.

From the wars of the copper kings to the environmental fallout from a century of mining, follow the characters and stories of Butte, Montana to see how historic city is looking to the future. MTPR's Nora Saks details Butte’s past, present and future on Richest Hill.

Listen Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. on Montana Public Radio. Or listen anytime online or wherever you get your podcasts.

Right after talking to a psychic about my own path and Butte’s, I felt comforted. It felt good to let someone else take the wheel for a while, you know? But that comfort turned out to be temporary. Soon, those vague answers about the future only gave birth to more questions. 

It got me wondering, is it really possible for a town that was built on extraction to experience a complete paradigm shift - towards reclamation and renewal? What does moving on from a toxic mess of this magnitude even mean? And what could Butte stand for in a post Superfund world? 

EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento (R) joined Anaconda's Chief Executive Officer Bill Everett, U.S. Senator Steve Daines, and local business leaders for a groundbreaking ceremony for a new hotel complex in Anaconda. October 13, 2020.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency’s second in command returned to Butte and Anaconda this week to celebrate major milestones in their decades-long Superfund cleanups and talk about next steps.

The core of the Superfund deal itself, and how it proposes to solve Butte’s lingering environmental problems forever, is really important and complicated, both legally and technically. And no wonder. Three levels of government — the county, state and feds — plus a former oil company, all had to settle their differences, and agree on how to clean up, once and for all, the rest of the environmental bust left behind by Butte’s historic copper mining boom.

So today, we’re gonna try to get our arms all the way around it. And take a closer look at what’s actually in this very big deal and whether the Mining City believes that after all of its sacrifices, this is a big enough reward. This is Episode 9: Butte Never Says Die.

This culvert and forebay pictured on May 28, 2019 are part of Butte's stormwater capture and treatment system, which will be expanded and completed in the  Superfund cleanup plan.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

A final deal signed by a federal judge this week outlining cleanup of century old mining waste in Butte means there’s going to be a flurry of work happening in the center of town. 

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon on Wednesday gave his final stamp of approval to an overarching Superfund cleanup deal for the Butte Hill and its headwater streams below.

Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Montana.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Butte’s $150 million cleanup deal is at last carved in legal stone after more than a decade of negotiations, and more than three decades on the Superfund National Priorities List.

On Wednesday, a federal district judge gave his final stamp of approval to an overarching Superfund settlement for the Butte Hill and its headwaters streams below.

Locations of surface water remedy components for the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit.
Land Design Inc. - BPSOU Record of Decision

Butte’s pending $150 million Superfund cleanup deal is now one step away from being legally set in stone.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday filed a motion to enter the Superfund deal, or consent decree, with the Federal District Court of Montana, recommending the court approve it.

Nora Saks, the reporter and host of Montana Public Radio's Richest Hill podcast has been awarded the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize.

Richest Hill dives deep into the history of Butte, MT to tell the colorful and complicated story of how the city became one of America's most notorious Superfund sites. Nora and producer Nick Mott have released 8 episodes in the 10 part series.

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.

Pages