A Lesson From Berkeley Pit

“One thousand miles journey begin with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

Hello, gorgeous! I am Ricky, from Indonesia. Here, I would like to share my first experience visiting Helena, the capital city of Montana and Berkeley Pit, which is located in Butte.

The first thing that came up into my mind when heard “Helena” is a song by the American rock band, My Chemical Romance. The song was used as the soundtrack of the 2005 remake of horror film named House of Wax, which is made me wondering that Helena is a quite, scary and creepy city. Hehehe. However, my first impression about Helena was totally wrong. When I arrived in Helena, I am amazed by the wonderful scenery of the city. Helena surrounded by beautiful valley which I think will be great for hiking and biking. In addition to that, Helena has a lot of beautiful old building and mansions, which is great for taking pictures or photo shot. The trip in Helena started by visiting the State’s Capitol Building, Department of Environment Quality, Lunch in L&D Chinese Buffet and ended with a tour in The Montana History Museum. Here is my picture in front of state’s capitol building.

Gorgeous Ricky in front of gorgeous building 😛

During our visit to state’s Capitol Building and Department of Environment Quality, we talked a lot with Mr. Tim Baker and Mr. Tom Livers about natural resources management in Montana, especially about mining practice and its reclamation. Since Montana has a rich gold rush history and mining activities. Then, we got our “EXTREMELY” delicious lunch in L&D Chinese Buffet. Yes, it’s extremely delicious, until I spent two plates of full main course. Thank you, YSEALI team for bringing us there. After having our lunch, we went to Montana’s History Museum which gave me sense of flash back to Indian tribe’s way of life thousand years ago.

After exploring the museum, we continued our journey to another wonderful city, Butte in order to visit one of the largest Superfund sites, Berkeley Pit. The Berkeley Pit is a former open pit copper mine, it is filled with water that is heavily acidic (2.5 pH level), about the acidity of cola or lemon juice. As a result, the pit is laden with heavy metals and dangerous chemicals, including copper, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, and sulfuric acid. The pit and its water will present a serious environmental problem in the future, when the pit water level eventually reaches the natural water table, the pit water will reverse flow back into surrounding groundwater, polluting into Silver Bow Creek which is the headwaters of Clark Fork River. So, to make sure that does not happen, a water treatment plant was built to pump and treat the water from Berkeley Pit, so that the water could be used for mining operations nearby.

Me in the Berkeley Pit

This was my most favorite part of the trip. It is remind me with my community service project in Indonesia. A week before my departure to USA for YSEALI program, I did a community service project in one of small island located in Mallaca strait near Malaysia, named Bangka island for two months. Bangka Island was considered as a rural area in Indonesia and was a post-mining area also. As a result, there are so many open pits that are not used. And of course, the water inside the pit also contaminated with heavy metals and dangerous chemical, especially lead, sulfuric acid and zinc (4-5 pH level),. What happened in Bangka was totally different with the condition in Butte. In Bangka, the water inside the pit was used for daily activities such as bathing, washing clothes and cooking equipment, and some of people also used it for drinking. It’s tragic, government and people do not aware with the possible dangers posed by the water inside the pit. There is no special program from the government and mining company concerned in the usage of this open pit. The Mining Company only planting trees in some areas of the former mine land. Only that! Even, I think the replanting program there is not that successful. Here is the picture of Bangka Pit.

Bangka Pit with its unsuccessful replanting program.

Me in the Bangka Pit, Beautiful like a two color lake, right? But deadly dangerous! 😛

In my opinion, it’s time for the government to make a long term plan in managing the water in Bangka Pit, just like what people in Butte did for Berkeley Pit. I am afraid that it will cause more dangerous and disadvantages for the society in Bangka. Even though it will be hard for the first time, no need to wait, it is time to start, because one thousand miles journey begin with a single step.

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