History closeout SALE… EVERYTHING MUST GO!

Representative Dennis Lenz (R-Billings) has hit upon a genius idea for funding a new building for the Montana Historical Society…sell up to $50 million of the collection – art, artifacts, and archival material.  Anyone up for a garage sale of Montana’s history?  As improbable as it may sound, this isn’t the first proposal of this kind we’ve heard.  And it doesn’t help when Speaker of the House, Austin Knudsen, suggests at the start of the legislative session that capital projects aren’t infrastructure.  Maybe putting people to work from Helena and the surrounding area is somehow bad for the economy.  Or perhaps adding to the world class reputation of the Montana Historical just isn’t quite cricket but if it was located somewhere else it might be doable.  Former Governor Schweitzer suggested moving the historical society to Butte during his second term but that just seemed like an embarrassment of riches for a community that has its own proud history and a big toxic pit to boot.

Since the initial romance began in 2005 with the passage of the bonding bill to help fund a new building for the MHS, the legislature has consistently left this proud and venerable institution standing at the altar.  Despite the continued slight, it’s hard to imagine a groundswell of support for HB 594, which violates current Montana Statute, the Montana Historical Society Code of Conduct, and the Code of Ethics of the American Association of Museums not to mention the loss of accreditation by the American Association of Museums as well as its status as a Smithsonian Affiliate.  All which pale in comparison to the violation of trust the MHS has earned over the last 150 plus years.  Such an action would destroy the integrity and reputation of a state institution that has served faithfully since its inception.

One can hope HB 594 dies a swift death in committee and that the legislature seriously considers the state of its premiere history organization.  Are they so parsimonious as to continue to strangle the life from an organization dedicated to the preservation of our history both noble and ignoble.   This feels a lot like the old “history” cliché, those who refuse to study their history are doomed to repeat it.

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  1. Oh please. Might you stop blaming the giant toxic pit in Butte on Butte?
    Atlantic Richfield Company, now BP-ARCO, merged with the Anaconda Company and promptly pulled the electrical switch that kept pumps running in the underground to keep it dry. They broke the treasured hundred year social contract with the people of Butte in so doing. And they did it on April 22, 1982, Earth Day, according to Jack Barry, RIP, the employee whose job it was to pull the switch.

    Once the mine tunnels flooded, the sulfuric acid and resultant liquid Copper, Lead, Zinc, Mercury, and Cadmium started to fill the Berkeley Pit. The decision to allow the pit to fill rests with BP-ARCO and with the US EPA and Montana State DEQ — not with the people nor the government of Butte-Silver Bow. The pit “water” could have been pumped and treated 23 years ago, keeping the pit “water” elevation low, but the Helena-based government Agencies went along with ARCO’s desire to cut their costs by waiting until 2023 to start pumping and treating pit “water.” Butte folks were not allowed a voice in that decision! A citizens’ alternative plan (written by me for the Clark Fork Coalition) to the Record of Decision for Mine Flooding was rejected by EPA. It called for immediate pumping and treating. If EPA et al had foresight, they would have chosen to pump and treat in the 90s so that, today, the idea of filling in the pit with soils would be possible. Too much time has gone by so that there is now too much “water” in the pit to be able release enough to lower the pit volume and then fill it in. They made absolutely certain Butte folks in 2017 would have absolutely no alternative but to “pump and treat in perpetuity.”
    A top government official in Helena stated, “Butte gets what it deserves.” Why so? Copper from Butte’s low-income miners, our forebears, helped win WWI. Their work helped electrify the nation. It’s Miner’s Union Local #1 gave hope to exploited immigrant workers across the nation.
    Butte is stuck with what Helena gave it.
    In the early 90s I moved back to my hometown and commuted to Helena to work at a State agency. Folks there really didn’t like Butte. “Butte kids come to sports events in Helena and beat up on our Helena kids,” I was told. By the year 2000, research had been done that showed Lead poisoning of children doesn’t just harm their academic abilities, it causes aggression in children. I told some Helena EPA folks that if they want their kids to be safe from fisticuffs of Butte children, they should give Butte a good cleanup decision on removal of Lead from neighborhoods in Butte!
    That didn’t happen. Butte has one of the most permissive levels of lead in the entire nation. Even though EPA says there is no safe level of lead for children, they allow 1200 ppm here on the Butte Hill. The why is that, again, ARCO’s battery of attorneys was able to convince the US EPA and MT DEQ to allow Butte children to play and reside in toxic soils. Just as ARCO pretended that Snow Geese died in the Pit in 1995 from fungus they ate near Great Falls, ARCO pretended that inorganic Lead would not harm humans. All know better now, but EPA continues the charade.
    The Montana Constitution guarantees every single one of us a clean and healthful environment. Why do kids in Helena get that kind of clean environment and kids in Butte don’t. Butte does NOT deserve to be treated so poorly. In these days isn’t it time for Montanans to stick together so “they” don’t come for you next.

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