Growing up in Butte, the Butte Civic Center was like Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden rolled into one.
To this day it really is the biggest stage in the Mining City.
We watched basketball legends of Butte win championships and suffer heartache in those hallowed halls. We watched professional hockey, the National Basketball Association and monster truck rallies.
Olympians performed there. So have trapeze artists, the Harlem Globetrotters, lions, tigers and bears.
The Civic Center is where we said goodbye to Evel Knievel and where we said hello to Keith Closs. A 7-foot-4 center playing for a sketchy CBA team, Closs was a different kind of a Daredevil.
It is where we hold high school graduations, and it is where the Butte High Bulldogs hand out their sports awards every June.
It is home to the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
No matter what the occasion, the Civic Center has raised the level of performance. If it is at the Civic Center, it is a big deal. It is that simple.
It might not be the biggest arena in the state, but it has certainly been the best.
However, it is time to tear down the old building and build something new.
Of course, we have been told we have already missed the boat when it comes to getting a new Civic Center as part of the removal of the Parrot Tailings not far from Butte’s storied arena.
If we did, in fact, miss the boat, it is because we were not privy to the double-secret negotiations in which the details were ironed out with our local government and the parties responsible for cleaning up mine waste.
So, if the ship has headed out to sea, we should jump on a helicopter and catch it.
It is never too late to do the right thing. When it comes to cleanup of mine waste, we have seen a severe shortage of doing the right thing, too.
That is because we have not done a good enough job speaking up for ourselves. For decades, we have settled for leaders who signed off on the bare minimum.
We are already letting them get away with a half-baked cleanup of the Richest Hill on Earth. They agree to slap down a walking trail and throw up a couple of gazebos next to the unnatural-looking fields of hay, and we look the other way as they leave a toxic creek running through the middle of town.
When it comes to playing poker with the major players regarding cleanup, Butte has continually beaten itself. If the negotiations with the Atlantic Richfield Company, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Montana were a game of blackjack, Butte would hold at seven.
Then it would fall for one of those sucker timeshare sales pitches.
While our hillside has been cleaned up dramatically over the last few decades, we still have yellow hills of mine dumps dotting the landscape.
We get to keep those for historical value. You know, so we can remember the contaminated dirt of our past well into the future.
That is really a line that was pitched to us, and, amazingly, the powers that be bought it, apparently barely passing on the packet of magic beans.
When a judge ruled that Silver Bow Creek needs to be cleaned up, ARCO, the EPA and the state got an assist from Butte-Silver Bow and found a runaround to make sure that generations to come will call those waters “S— Creek.”
With the Butte Civic Center, which is only a few feet away from those contaminated waters that will probably never be cleaned, it is time for us to put our foot down and demand the best for the people of Butte for years to come.
We have to demand a new Civic Center.
As part of the cleanup of years of abuse of Butte’s natural resources, the people should have an arena the size of the Metra in Billings. We should have a state-of-the-art building big enough to host any event imaginable.
Butte should have an arena large enough to host the all-class state wrestling tournament or an indoor football league.
We should have a gym with handicap accessibility that goes well beyond the minimum of the law, and it should have ample parking. We should be able to watch a hockey game in the morning and then put down the floor for a basketball game that night.
More importantly, Butte should get the cleanup that it deserves, and the old Civic Center is sitting on a foundation of filth. As it stands now, the cleanup will go right up next to the Civic Center, taking out the contamination below the parking lot.
Yet the building will remain standing.
You do not have to have a degree from Montana Tech to see that the building was built on contamination, too.
You do not have to have a degree from Harvard Law to see that the Mining City should be up for some sort of compensation for building a Civic Center on top of land it would later find to be contaminated. Well, maybe you do. I don’t know. I’m just a caveman.
When contamination was pointed out near Missoula, the people would not stand for it. They demanded that the cleanup start with them, even if it makes no sense to start a cleanup downstream from the source of the contamination.
I believe it was Fritz Daily, the man who should be in charge of all Butte cleanup, who pointed out that you pick up the spilling jug of milk before you start wiping up the floor.
In Montana, though, we started cleaning up in Missoula and moved our way upstream toward the source.
The magnitude of that foolishness is really hard to wrap your head around.
Missoula, though, spoke up and got the cleanup it thought it deserved, even if it was silly to start right there.
Butte has to speak up, and it has to do it loudly.
The people who have been making decisions for us have let us down. They have meetings in secrecy, and they settle for walking trails instead of clean water. They settled for a cleaned-up parking lot over a contamination-free building foundation.
While I cannot believe what I am about to write, Butte needs to be more like Missoula.
Whenever you see a local official, tell them to demand a new Civic Center. Write a letter to the governor and tell him to make up for his predecessor’s shortcomings when it comes to cleaning up the Mining City.
We put up signs telling the world that we “Believe in Butte” during a global pandemic. We have signs that say “Butte Tough.”
Let’s put up signs calling for our city to get the cleanup it deserves.
Anaconda got a golf course designed by the great Jack Nicklaus. We should not settle for anything short of a clean creek running through town and a new Civic Center on top of land free of contamination.
Oh, and we should have them fill in the Berkeley Pit and landscape the area while we are at it. Really, it is not a lot to ask for the billions and billions of dollars that have been taken out of our city.
We need to start by demanding that our leaders belly back up to the blackjack table and say “hit.”
— Bill Foley, who is not afraid to hit on 20, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.
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