11 December 2007

Too Late for Opportunity? Superfund & Theatre of the Oppressed

A group of students from my Politics of Technical Decisions class presented a two-act play about the town of Opportunity, Montana, and the problems posed by the adjacent Arco-British Petroleum hazardous waste repository. The play uses techniques developed by Augusto Boal in what he called Forum Theatre or Theatre of the Oppressed. Boal's techniques give us a way to confront social injustice and to imagine resolution.

Historical overview: Beginning c. 1910, the Anaconda Copper Mining (ACM) company smelter in Anaconda stored waste in a series of settling ponds near Opportunity. By the time ACM closed in the 1980s, the ponds spread over 5 square miles and held about 160 million cubic yards of toxic mine waste. With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implementing remedies for the many operable units in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin complex of Superfund sites, the ponds -- now owned and operated by Arco-British Petroleum -- became a regional repository for toxic mine waste cleaned from Butte, Silver Bow Creek, Milltown, and other areas. Residents of Opportunity suffer from dust storms blowing from the waste repository, fear their ground water will become contaminated, and do not want the stigma of a large, barren, toxic waste repository in their backyard.

The aerial view (above) shows Warm Springs, MT. The Arco-British Petroleum waste repository is the prominent, bright (no vegetation) feature south of Warm Springs. The town of Opportunity is directly south of the waste repository. East of the repository and across I-90 are the Warm Springs Ponds--another Arco-British Petroleum Superfund site.

Cast: Jackie Dumke as ACM and Arco-BP; Gretchen Miller as Opportunity; Will Thornsberry as Milltown; Schylar Canfield as EPA.

Act I of the play opened with ACM (Anaconda Copper Mining corporation) counting its rich wealth of copper (above).

ACM dumps its toxic mine waste on Milltown (above).

The EPA orders Milltown to "Get rid of that." (above)

Milltown brings the mine waste to Opportunity, which clearly wants no more of it. (above)

Despite Opportunity's pleas, the EPA seems unable or unwilling to help Opportunity. (above)


Act II of the play begins with Opportunity approaches Arco-British Petroleum, seeking a solution to its toxic mine waste problem. (above)

Opportunity pleads with Arco-British Petroleum. (above)

But Arco-British Petroleum tells Opportunity, "It's too late." (above)

Opportunity goes to the EPA, but is again told, "It's too late." (above)

Then, the audience becomes involved.

In a "what if" approach to history, Nancy Mccourt takes over as Milltown, teams up with Opportunity, and together they insist that the ACM manage its own wastes instead of spreading it all over the landscape as a free garbage dump. (above)

Sean Eamon takes over as the contemporary Arco-BP, and offers money to Opportunity in return for accepting the waste repository. Anaconda got a golf course from Arco-BP, so what does Opportunity want that money can buy? Opportunity sees the money as a partial solution, but still wants assurances regarding human health issues such as clean water and blowing dust. (above)

Glen Bodish takes over as EPA, makes an effort to find out what Opportunity wants, questions Arco-BP about its long term management plans, and ponders the agency's obligations to the American public. Bodish-as-EPA also insists on bringing the relevant parties together as a group exploring solutions. (above)

Andrea Stierle (first from right) steps in as Science, playing an advisory role to EPA and suggesting more ideal solutions--such as hauling all the waste from the Arco-BP repository and other sites back to the Berkeley Pit. (above)

Serge Myers (first from left) takes over as Opportunity and along with actors and the audience generally supports this option: Use the Berkeley Pit as THE repository for ALL Superfund toxic waste in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin. (above)

Thank you, audience, for your participation in this lively event and for your thoughts on this important issue!

For more about Opportunity, see George Niland's Opportunity Citizens Protection Association blog at http://opportunitycpa.blogspot.com .

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