BUTTE (AP) — Thieves are pilfering irreplaceable relics out of Butte mine yards to sell for pennies.
“It’s like going to the Gettysburg battlefield and stealing a cannon for scrap metal,” said Tom Malloy, reclamation manager for Butte-Silver Bow.
“These are historical artifacts that can’t be replaced at any cost,” he said.
As Malloy strolled through the Mountain Con engine room on the Butte Hill Wednesday, he pointed out all of the missing parts. Copper wiring has been pillaged and various machines ravaged for parts to sell to salvage yards.
“I’d love to take Butte people in for tours but it’s not still here anymore because someone got 50 cents a pound,” Malloy said.
“If it’s not nailed down, they’ll come steal it. If it is nailed down, they’ll bring the tools to pry it out,” he added, pointing out where someone had tediously unscrewed part of a motor in an attempt to steal it.
Officials are working to stabilize and reinforce the yards, but much of the damage is not repairable such as the missing parts.
Last summer, Malloy caught one thief red-handed after receiving a tip from a neighbor of the Mountain Con. That man was arrested for felony theft. The thieves are so brazen they bring along a six-pack of beer and a sack lunch when they come to work over the old yards, he said.
“They are industrious because it’s not easy work,” Malloy said.
On Tuesday, police arrested a local man they believe either stole items from the Lexington Mine or intended to do so.
That arrest followed a few other break-ins last week.
“They remove anything they can from the mine yards,” Undersheriff George Skuletich said. “It’s historic. We want to keep them intact.”
Sheriff Ed Lester said the thieves are “basically stealing our history.”
Malloy asked people using the nearby walking trails to keep an eye out for any suspicious activity at the historic sites.
“These are our mine yards. They belong to the whole community,” he said.
While Malloy is disheartened by the pillaging that has already occurred, he is hopeful they can deter more.
Crews are working to restore the exterior of the Mountain Con and hope to increase the security at the same time. C. Davies Enterprises was on hand Wednesday repainting and restoring large window screens as part of the ongoing project. They are doing the same at Butte’s other mines.
A grant from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is funding the stabilization efforts, which includes replacing windows and doors.