Montana Public Radio

copper

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.

Nathan Cook, FWP fisheries biologist, Beau Downing, Upper Clark Fork Restoration Manager with Montana's Resource Damage Program, & Alex Leone, restoration specialist with Clark Fork Coalition, scout deposits of mine waste along the upper Clark Fork River
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

The state started new work this week to prevent toxic metals in century-old mine waste from seeping into the Upper Clark Fork River. 

On a warm August morning, representatives of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program, and the nonprofit Clark Fork Coalition and I set out on a bright green raft for a float just south of Deer Lodge.

Geology student studying the limestone near Farlin, MT.
UM Western

Last summer I was helping teach a geology field camp near Dillon. On our way back to the Birch Creek Outdoor Education Center each day, after long hours in the August sun spent identifying and mapping incredible exposures of rock, we would drive past a few crumbling cabins beneath an unweathered cliff face footed by large piles of scree.

This was once the town of Farlin – a long-abandoned copper mining camp at the base of the Pioneer Mountains. Shortly after the dawn of the 20th century, it was home to hundreds of men, women, and children. Inextricable from the experience of Montana, ghost towns like this one now dot the landscape they once extracted.

Black Butte Copper Project, project facilities site plan.
Montana DEQ

Conservation groups want a Montana court to cancel the approval of the long-disputed Black Butte copper mine, saying it would pollute a tributary of the Smith River, one of the state's most popular recreational rivers.

The Washoe Smelter Stack in Anaconda.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Public meetings over a newly released agreement guiding the remainder of the Anaconda Superfund cleanup will be held over the first two weeks of March.

Butte Superfund Coordinator Jon Sesso speaks during the event unveiling EPA's final cleanup plan for Butte, Feb. 13, 2020.
Nick Mott / Montana Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency last week announced a final Superfund deal for Butte, detailing a roadmap they say will permanently clean up one of the most intractable Superfund sites in the country.

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.

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.

Study: Proposed Copper Mine Won't Harm Popular Montana River

Mar 11, 2019
Black Butte Copper Project, project facilities site plan.
Montana DEQ

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Officials said Monday that a copper mine proposed along a tributary of one of Montana's most popular recreational rivers would cause the river no harm, a conclusion that conservationists question and say will reinvigorate opposition to the plan.

Richest Hill episode 01: Get to know Butte, Montana, one of America's biggest Superfund sites and one of Montana’s most compelling places. Richest Hill is a new podcast about the past, present and future of Butte, America, "The Richest Hill on Earth."

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