Sunday, May 30, 2010

Well, here we are again. A year ago, the county hired a new Historic Preservation Officer or HPO. Hopes were high on this fellow. He has a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation. He has some sort of experience with one of the more historic towns in southwest Montana. A year later however, and those hopes are dashed.

He's obviously arrogant. He obviously liked telling a couple of the members of the Historic Preservation Commission that we'd not had a really professional HPO till he arrived. He must have, since he did it several times in the period of about a month back in this winter. He actually seems to believe that the city-county employed him because they actually support Historic Preservation. Yeah, right. A couple members of the HPC sorted that out with him. He has the job because for now, they have to have an HPO. If the need for that disappeared tomorrow, so would he. His list of stupid moves since arriving, just seems to get longer and longer.

He proposed to the HPC that historic buildings or structures could be demolished because of "compelling new developments". Oh really? He could not however, tell them how he would define that, and which of the hundreds of historic buildings and structures in the largest Historic Landmark District in the US (Butte) he would sacrifice for some "compelling new development." That did not go over.

He apparently has some trouble understanding how one makes a determination of whether or not a building retains enough historical integrity to be eligible for National Register of Historic Places listing. He wants to confuse the physical condition of the building with NRHP integrity. Ah no, that aint how it is done. A member of the HPC has had to point that out to him as well.

Early on in his first year, he even proposed to demolish a building that was actually not the building being proposed for demolition at that time. Oops. What, he not know how to find and read a map?

More recently, a member of the HPC had to point out to him how to actually do research of another historic building. He also had to be corrected that the particular building under consideration in that case was not any sort of "safety hazard", as he had proposed. He also proposed that it would be an economic hardship on the owner of that building, to keep it around and try and restore it. Never mind that he had no real evidence or anything but his own opinion on that one. Of course, he is always convinced that his opinion out weighs any others, whether he as the facts or not. No effort had been made to properly assess the possibilities, including perhaps someone who was willing to purchase the building and relocate it. Oops.

The HPC has requested him to actually perform the tasks assigned to him under the local law, and he either never seems to get around to it, or instead just rolls over when the boys at 155 West Granite Street (the address of the local seat of government) don't want him the words of the local law to be actually.."provding assistance to the HPC" pursuit of it's responsibilities under the same law that includes his job description. Of course, he usually is not too busy really, more like the boys in the courthouse don't want him to do whatever it is the HPC has asked. He most recently rolled-over again, failing to complete a document the HPC asked him to do, because his supervisor did not want him to do it. Even though local law vests the HPC with reponsibility for completing those forms, the boys in the courthouse want the HPC to ask their permission first. Good luck with that one.

Instead, he seems to piddle away his time, working on projects that are not even Historic Preservation. One is a proposal to turn what is left of a wood-stave water tank into an intepretive center. Now the deal here is that a local guy claims to have ownership of this tank, but cannot apparently produce and actual deed or even a quitclaim. It was moved back inthe 1990s from it's historic location to a new location, on a different historic property, with which it has no association at all. They've wanted to turn this orphaned mining artifact into an interpretive center, since oh, about 1996. In the years since however, they've never been able to convince enough of the public to actually donate money to the project. Now along comes this new HPO and bingo--we are supposed to shell out $10,000.00 to see if the thing can even be saved, but if not, then guy that claims to own it, wants to salvage the redwood planking in it for himself. Of that $10,000.00, our new HPO wants to shell out $5,000 from a state grant originally secured for conserving actual historic buildings and structures on publically-owned historic properties administered by the local government. If that works, then he wants to chuck out some unspecified part of an estimated $35,0000 needed, from a trust fund established for historic preservation. I'll remind you that this is not an historic preservation project, since the poor old tank involved, no longer meets National Register criteria for historic properties. Might be fine for Disney World, but not for real Historic Presevation. Oops.

One has to think he could be as bad at this as one of his predecessors. That one, put up metal cut-out figures of miners and ladies of the evening, supposedly as interpretation of the town's old Red Light District. He once even proposed putting kiosks on just about every street corner in uptown Butte. Those would also have had metal-cut out figures of what looked like beer-bellied, Keystone Cops, leaning on a lamp post, holding a baton, which passersby could actually spin! Woohoo--that would be soo much fun huh? Then, to literally top this off, he wanted to put street lights on each of these, with a red globe over them! Oh yeah, just what we needed up town, making the whole uptown into a red-light district! Fortunately, that idea got canned. Meanwhile, as that one fiddled with that sort of nonsense, a signficant neigherhood in Butte was stripped of probably the majorty of historic homes along one street, so that the local hospital could create what many refer to as the "Great Green Way" leading up to their new entrance. There was no mitigation even required for that to happen. I guess that was one of those "compelling new developments" the current occupant of the HPO position refers to in using that phrase. So, back to the current occupant of the HPO position.

His most current little endeavor appears to be providing support to a local amateur that wants to take a portion of what is left of an historic mine yard, and turn it into a French-Style garden. Now why would one do that, when no such garden ever existed there before? Well, according to the amateur, the last fellow to live on the site, happened to have the last name of Renoir, so he must have been of French-descent. Also, the proposal would have some unspecified interpretive signs on it, about folks from Butte of French-descent, even though the originator of this idea says most of those folks actually lived not in Butte, but in Walkerville. Uh yeah, okay, right. He also wants to replace existing, historical features of the area with his latest creation of garish, obviously-amateurish decorative walls. This fellow is also the creator of a place he calls Lexington Gardens. At that spot in uptown Butte, he created huge displays of annual flowers, accompanied by two intepretive signs about Butte, and further accompanied by more orphaned mining artifacts. They sit atop the little hill on which it is located. They are out-of-context with each other in terms of scaling. At least Disney's folks usually tend to get proportions right, don't they?

Where do we come up with these folks anyway? Maybe we need to look a little longer and harder next time, which some of us are coming to hope is as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Shadow Government and the Bridge to Nowhere

Lately the local government, obviously looking to please the Rich and Powerful set of folks that essentially form a sort of "shadow government" for Butte; and the lame-duck Governor of the state; have been trying to push an idea along to the public. That idea is to spend 15-20 million dollars of monies at least primarily supposed to be used for repair of the horrendous damages done to the natural resources of both the immediate Butte area and the surrounding region, on building some mega-museum of the history of mining and the history and ongoing efforts at reclamation of the mess left behind by the old Anaconda Copper Mining Company and others.

A local government fellow who considers himself a high-potentate and mover-shaker, wrote two articles about it for the local newspaper. Friends, to read it you would first think local government actually supports Historic Preservation. Then the reality of their records sets in and you know he is trying to hood-wink you once again. The articles are long on politicians platitudes and way, way short on details. Thing is of course, he could not put in those details really, since the shadow government does not want the public to know what they are really all about. It's one of those situations where the Rich and Powerful are convinced that because they are that way, they know best for the rest of us in the community. Yeah, right boys.

The public however, has been pretty much opposed to the idea of spending that much of this money on a museum proposal that originated with one of those rich and powerful people, who in his time here, made his money and up and left us with some of the same mess as ACM had previously done. He proposed the idea originally, then the economy of late 2008 caught up with him and he could not afford it. So now, his buds in the shadow government want to revive it and pay the lion's share for it. There are reports of folks waiting in the wings to file suit against these folks if this money is actually awarded.

Now a group of other local, regular citizens is proposing that if the money can be spent for these kinds of thing, then it needs also to be spent on some pretty basic effort at preservation of historic buildings and structures and to expand existing museums in the community that are struggling daily to preserve the heritage of the real people of Butte, not just that of the Rich and Famous. Oh brother, that has got the boys in the shadow government in not so good a mood, and has put the one local government ding-dong in tween a rock and a hard place. Reason for that is you see is how he's been out pontificatin' with high-op-a-lorum and low-pop-a-hirum (with thanks to Huey Long) for the shadow government, while the very organization he believes he controls, has been putting together this expanded plan to include the regular folks in the community as well. Oops! Some of us are hoping that this old boy ends up going to the woodshed with the shadow government folks for this one. We'll see.

While talking bout this snake oil salesman, he is also the one that was pushing to spend 1.5 million dollars on Butte's own version of the Bridge to Nowhere (BoN). That BoN is a pedestrian bridge over one of the busiest streets in town, to connect two walking trails without having to use sidewalks and cross at the light. The thing is, there is no trail now on one side of where the BoN would go and the public is about ready to tar and feather him. So he has made the excuse now that the proposal is on hold. Yeah, I just bet it is!

Stayed tuned and tight lines

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

If someone had told me some years ago I'd be posting to a BLOG, I'd have told em they needed help from the folks in long white coats. However, here it begins.

Making a long story as short as possible for now, I live in the old, barely-surviving, historic mining town of Butte, Montana, USA. Butte once earned the reputation and name "Richest Hill on Earth" as a result of the asssortment of underground, hardrock mines that dotted the Butte Hill. They all began pretty much independently in the late 19th century but eventually almost all ended up in the ownership of the Ananconda Copper Company or ACM. It was the usual story folks. A few fat-cat mine owners, ran the place and over the men and their families that actually kept the fat-cats fat. Had it not been for the miners and their families, those "Copper Kings" would just as likely have been "Dung Kings", and ended up in life, shoveling pig crap out of hog yards somewhere. Eventually the miners had enough, and unionized, despite the best efforts of ACM, even with the help of the federal government in the early 20th century.

These days, ACM is long gone. It grabbed it's money over about a century and left town. After that, along came Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) that apparently was dumb enough to have bought out ACM just about the same time as the Superfund law went into effect, and thus made ARCO the Potentially Reponsible Party for millions of dollars worth of the cleanup of the nasty messes left behind mainly by ACM and it's predecessors. That brought in the US Environmental Protection Agency (aint that name a joke huh?) and what was left of the sham government locally for Butte and Silver Bow county. Truth is, ACM had owned the local and state governments for about the same period they ran mining and ore smelting in Montana. What was left after ACM departed, was a motly collection of half-baked politicians with little or no ability at leadership, guidance or direction. Like the people of Butte, they had jumped whenever ACM told them to, asking first how high to jump.

Now, rumor has it that today, there is a sort of shadow-government, made up of a handful of folks really that learned to keep themselves and a few other folks employed off government grants for mostly meaningless boon-doggle projects. It is the rumor that they actually control the boys in the courthouse. That would not surprise me at all. The ones I have enountered, pretty much, could not blow their own noses if their brains were dynamite. The ones actually elected by the voters, get elected or re-elected because frankly, no one else stand for election. The rest of the town is too busy trying to keep body and home and family together economically with litte or no real support from the boys in the courthouse, unless of course, they are those handlers lurking in the shadows. What most folks seem to come down to in elections is a choice between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumber. Voters like me however, tend to write in our own names, the name of a family pet, or just "neither of the above" at times. Yes, the choices are just that bad. You have either the good old boys, with good old Butte family names, or some relative newbies to city-county governments that are, as one friend describes them "lightweights". Oh yeah, that is a good description.

So, three or so years ago, I decided to get involved in community affairs though three volunteer organizations. Since then, what I had suspected for about 15 years before was actualy true. Local government here could not pour urine from a foot-covering device, if the instructions on how to do it were printed in big letters on the heel. I've quickly found, like many other volunteers in Butte, that if you let it, the frustration and down right anger at how poorly things are really done here can get to you.

So, here I am with this BLOG thing. Shoot, I dont even know what BLOG stands for and don're really care. What his does is give me an outlet to post the ventings of a fellow who wants to do right by the community and is constantly confronted by nit-wits that run local government, who's only interest is their own electibility of if an employee of local government, maintaining their situational ethics and by that their jobs. Trust me friends, there is a lot to vent about. If you let it, trying to counter the actions of local government, is something akin to trying to teach a pig to dance.

Most of what you will hopefully see here in future is about historic resources and the conservation/preservation of those resources. However, from time to time you may well see some pieces about the so-called reclamation being done by ARCO-EPA and the local yocal government. Elections are coming as well, so there will perhaps be some about that.

Hope you stayed tuned!