Other than being crushed by the ghost of a disgruntled miner while we sleep, it seems like the biggest fear for people from Butte is that the Mining City will turn into Bozeman or Missoula.
Nobody wants all of these rich folks from out of state coming in with all their money and pricing us out of our hometown. (Click here for the podcast version of this column.)
The great Butte journalist and author Kathleen McLaughlin has elegantly written about the “effects of gentrification on the American West.”
Most of us in Butte talk about the rich out-of-state assholes moving in and trying to take over.
I used to think the Berkeley Pit and a couple of arctic blasts each winter would keep those people away, and they have.
At least they did until the pandemic set in. A combination of the remote working boom and the housing in Bozeman and Missoula filling up faster than water in the Pit led people to set their sights on Butte.
Suddenly, working families trying to buy houses started getting outbid by cash offers made by people who never even stepped foot on the property.
With that, the price of housing started going through the roof, and rent prices skyrocketed.
I have no problem with people moving to Butte, even if they are rich. But as people from so many other places in Montana could tell us, that is not the kind of growth we want.
We want to see our population go up because we brought in some good-paying jobs for the kind of people who will fill Naranche Stadium on Friday nights.
So many other places in the state have seen people come to town with no investment in their community, other than the giant house that they built or bought.
There is a danger to that. The community loses a bit of its character and soul when that happens.
No place in the world — at least in my book — has more character than the Can-Do City, and we never want to lose that.
That brings me back to the Pit.
Perhaps if we had a little bit of an overflow from the toxic water that filled it up since the ill-advised decision to turn off the water pumps after the mines closed down in the early 1980s, we could slow down the housing crunch.
We do not want a big spill that would hurt any person or animal. We just need one big enough to make the national news.
That will keep those Californians in Boz Angeles.
Actually, we do not really need that at all. What we need is for people to simply pay attention to Fritz Daily.
You have probably heard Fritz on KBOW’s Partyline talking about the “ecological timebomb” that is the Berkeley Pit and how the people of Butte have continually gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to environmental cleanup.
If you talk to some government leaders — current or past — and some leaders in the mining industry, they will tell you that Fritz is a crazy man.
They paint him as being somewhere between Randy Quade in the movie “Independence Day” and Grandpa Simpson when he is pumping his fist while yelling at a cloud.
Do not listen to that crazy man. He does not know what he is talking about.
I have had mining and government workers tell me that to my face several times. Fritz, they say, is a wacko.
That, of course, is all part of what has to be a coordinated campaign to discredit the most credible voice when it comes to mine contamination in Butte.
When it comes to the Berkeley Pit and Superfund cleanup, there is nobody on the planet I trust more than Fritz Daily.
If they would have just listened to Fritz, a retired teacher and former state legislator, over the past 40 years, the people of Butte probably would have gotten the cleanup we deserve.
Go ahead and send Fritz a friend request on Facebook. There he offers so much information on how badly the people of Butte have gotten the proverbial shaft.
Along with Ron Davis and Sister Mary Jo McDonald, Fritz sued the state and the Environmental Protection Agency and won. Judge Brad Newman’s ruling meant that Butte would get a cleanup of Silver Bow Creek, which runs through the middle of Butte.
Or so we thought.
The State of Montana and the EPA, however, completely ignored the court order, and the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit Consent Decree signed by Butte-Silver Bow a couple of years ago completely killed the dreams of a beautiful flowing creek running through town.
Instead, we are stuck with a ditch full of stagnant, toxic water — water that is more toxic than the Berkeley Pit — apparently forever.
Since they began treating water from the filled-to-the-rim Pit in November of 2019, some 7 billion gallons of Berkeley Pit water have been pumped into Silver Bow Creek.
Unfortunately, that water is piped to bypass the contaminated portion of the creek and it enters the waterway after the creek meets Blacktail Creek.
The water in Silver Bow Creek as it leaves town, by the way, is not as pure as they would like us to think. My daughter’s sixth grade science project proved that the ditch portion of Silver Bow Creek still contaminates the stream they tell us is clean.
There is also that silly little problem of contamination that is still there because they started the cleanup of the water in Missoula then moved backward upstream.
That will go down as the dumbest move in the history of environmental cleanup.
As Fritz says, that would be like cleaning up the milk on the kitchen floor before you pick up the jug that is spilling.
Fritz points out that the water from the Pit that bypasses the waterway Judge Newman ordered cleaned up makes its way to Missoula, where the adults and children get to enjoy it. Butte people, meanwhile, can only dream about what should be.
Talk about another slap in the face.
The slap, by the way, comes from the people who were supposed to be looking out for us.
When the consent decree was being debated just before the pandemic set in, a proposed dumping site for contaminated dirt got one neighborhood rightly up in arms.
The easiest and cheapest plan was for them to dump next to Copper Mountain Park, not far from houses, we were told.
Once that hit the news, the people of the neighborhood were furious.
I wrote about it in a column for Butte Sports, and a couple of angry meetings led to the Atlantic Richfield Company, the EPA and the State of Montana announcing that the dump site by the park was off the table.
With that, the contempt neighbors smiled and left the meeting feeling satisfied.
That was not my neighborhood, so I was not completely fulfilled. Since I grew up literally across the street from a toxic mine dump, I worried about all Butte neighborhoods.
I asked where the contaminated dirt would be dumped now that the not-in-my-neighborhood crowd got its way. I asked again and again and again.
The EPA, the state and the county ignored my repeated requests for a map to show the other three possible dump sites.
I knew a map existed because I got a glimpse of it during their PowerPoint presentation. But, since I was sitting toward the back of the room, I could not tell where the other dumping options were located.
Eventually, former state senator Jon Sesso, who is now the retired Superfund coordinator, called me to tell me why they would not give me a map.
They did not want me to stir the pot again, Sesso said, even though I learned of the park dumping plan on the television news and newspaper. They just could not have another angry meeting threaten the consent decree, which was an agreement negotiated in secrecy.
He did not know where they would dump, but the three sites he listed included a spot near the neighborhood of Williamsburg, a spot behind Montana Tech and a dumping site by the Granite Mountain Memorial.
I was only OK with the one by the Memorial because it has been used as a waste depository for decades. The other two, are worth stirring the pot to stop.
To this day, neither ARCO, the EPA, the state nor the county have announced where all that contaminated dirt will be dumped.
You see, the people of Butte should not fear the influx of rich out of staters to our community. They cannot possibly hurt us as much as the leaders who let us down over the decades of environmental cleanup.
We cannot stop people from moving here, and we really do not want to be the kind of people who would try.
We should welcome new people and invite them to join us in the good fight to get the Mining City the cleanup it deserves.
We just have to make sure that they all send a friend request to Fritz Daily and ensure them that the “crazy old man” talk is nothing more than a giant lode of B.S.
— Bill Foley, who knows what it is like to be labeled a crazy old man, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.