Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape

Brad Tyer, Author
Brad Tyer. Beacon, $25.95 (264p) ISBN 978-0-8070-0329-9
Reviewed on: 01/21/2013
Release date: 03/26/2013
Open Ebook - 141 pages - 978-0-8070-0330-5
Paperback - 232 pages - 978-0-8070-3325-8
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Memoir, history, and the unequal application of economic justice come together in Tyer’s deeply felt and sharply penned nonfiction debut. Tyer’s reportage spotlights the process by which the tiny Montana town Opportunity became the dumping ground for millions of tons of toxic copper mining waste. The waste was uncovered as the result of a dam removal that helped beautify Missoula. Tyer also puts the fate of Opportunity in the context of Montana’s 19th- and 20th-century mining history, which he documents in crisp, entertaining style. A long list of costly toxic Superfund cleanup sites follows. Tyer laces his withering descriptions with an outsider’s appreciation for the myth and reality of the 21st-century West, some heartfelt words on the pleasures of canoeing wild rivers, and a moving exploration of his strained relationship with his late father. It’s a complex tangle of themes, but the book finds a concise focus when Tyer observes the “perverse poetry” and grim logic of pouring staggering amounts of waste into a place that’s already hideously polluted, because “the waste had to go somewhere. Waste always does. It doesn’t disappear. It just gets kicked down the road.” Remarkably, Tyer paints sympathetic portraits of the environmentalists, cleanup officials, and resilient survivors of an environmental catastrophe who are trying to keep living in the only home they’ve ever known. (Mar.)
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