After a little break and a delay on my part mammoth book club is back.
This week we discuss “Margins in our Midst Gravel” by Matthew Coolidge of The Center for Land Use Interpretation. Some of us focused on the possibilities of re-purposing the pits as sites of new program and function. Others were interested in issues of scale. How much aggregate is used, where and what these large systems can tell us about our priorities in terms of land use. I was particularly struck by Coolidge’s description of how the aggregate industry mines the alluvial fans coming down from the mountains. Although, the dams are primarily designed to serve as dams, in order for them to function in this capacity the industry dredges and as “a sort of slow, passive mining system” relies on the dam basins as a source of aggregate material. The now primary designed-use being a by-product or secondary result.
“To put this in a national perspective, the aggregate industry overall has around 120,000 employees, and 10,000 quarries, making it easily the largest mining industry in the country.“
Matthew Coolidge, Pg 70
The industrial processes described by Coolidge are thus ultimately the premier example of the sorts of mining operations (and subsequent reclamation operations) discussed by Alan Berger in Reclaiming the American West, of which there is one particular example that I would like to discuss.
The Berkeley Pit is also result of mining operations. Yet, unlike in Irwindale (where the powers that be would like to fill, or otherwise reclaim the pits) the city of Butte Montana has no such choice. The accidental lake which has since filled the pit is in fact highly acidic and the water is also laced with heavy metals and toxic compounds. As a SuperFund site there are plans for trying to address these challenges, yet the site has self-produced it’s own beneficial reclamation of sorts. Although the water are highly toxic the waters are not sterile. Life exists and even thrives thanks to natural selection. These extremophiles, researchers at Montana Tech have identified as sources for tumor fighting compounds that may hold the cure for certain types of cancers
Perhaps, what Irwindale needs is to replicate the conditions of the Berkeley Pit and with their own batches of extremophiles jump-start a new generation of bio-technologists. Is this the future of the city’s economic growth? Geologic scaled vats of bio-goop??
Either way, it seems clear that nature and natural selection along with geologic time make their own uses of such sites of extraction and temporary scarrification.