Montana’s Clark Fork: Act II

December 13, 2011 By: Benjamin Clary

The second act of a three act play is the “meaty, messy middle, where quests become complicated and outcomes tarred with doubt before resolution finally parts the clouds in Act III,” writes Brad Tyer in the Missoula Independent.  Tyer, like other Montanans, is watching Act II of the restoration of Montana’s Clark Fork, holding his breath to see if Act III will ever come.

Butte, Montana, home of the World Museum of Mining and the Berkeley Pit, where 40 billion gallons of acid water sits, was once home to the world’s largest copper camp, around the time the metal was in high demand thanks to recent innovations by a scientist named Thomas Edison.

In nearby Anaconda, the world’s largest copper smelter was built in 1883 to treat what was coming from Butte.  Almost a century later, the mines of Butte and the Anaconda smelter were shut down, and a year after that, in 1981, arsenic leaks were found, thus marking the beginning of Act II.

The restoration project continues but the most important question still looms:  Where should the contaminated matter go?  For now, the answer is Opportunity, Montana, a small community outside of Anaconda, much to the chagrin of the citizens.  “We’re sacrificing for everyone else,” says resident Connie Daniels.

Unfortunately there is no good solution.  By public comment, Missoulians rejected the initial plan to dump the waste in East Missoula.  “Shoot it into space,” was one high school student’s proposal.  For now, the area that area Opportunity citizens petitioned to be named “BP-ARCO Waste Repository” will have to do.  Although, despite the citizens small victory, it will most likely be referred to by its misleading, former name:  Opportunity Ponds.