Anaconda, Montana: a 'company town' that has lost the company

The Anaconda Copper Company -- simply "the company" to most Montanans -- is shutting down its copper smelter here for good. It's one more addition to a pattern that is becoming familiar in the United States: firms abandoning facilities they have used for years on grounds that pollution-abatement requirements make it too costly to keep them going.

In this case the remedy is extreme. The company says it is more economical to ship copper ore halfway around the world to Japan for smelting than to upgrade the existing plant to meet federal pollution control laws.

That means employees don't even have the choice of transferring to a new facility elsewhere in the United States.

Before choosing to export ore to Japan for smelting, the company reportedly considered sending it to the ASARCO smelter at Tacoma, Wash. But that company had to turn the business away because it lacked spare capacity.

With the abandonment of the smelter, another US community has been deprived of an industry that has for decades been its chief reason for existing.

but although local business are feeling the impact of the diminished payroll already and some residents have put their houses up for sale in anticipation on moving, Anacondans are not givign up on their town.

"We don't like to let people think we are going to lie down and die," says Brenda Rankin of the Anaconda Local Development Corporation (ALDC).

The Atlantic Richfield Company, which now owns Anaconda Copper, donated land to ALDC for an industrial park, and the development corporation is working hard to bring light industry to the town.

Several workers purchased the smelter foundry and are using the equipment to make metal castings for other companies in town.

Meanwhile, an agreement has been signed with the Nippon Mining Company and C. Itoh & Co., representing six Japanese smelters, to handle Anaconda will ship approximately 390,000 metric tons of copper concentrates to Japan annually for the next seven years.

The copper is mined in Anaconda's famous Berkeley open-pit mine at Butte, Mont.

For years the Anaconda copper smelter has been considered Montana's leading polluter, putting about 1,000 tons of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere daily. Company spokesmen claim it would have cost about $400 million to upgrade the smelter to meet antipolution requirements.

Anaconda shut down its smelter here and a copper refinery at Great Falls, Mont., last July after workers went on strike. In September it announced it was closing the twop plants for good.

The smelter closing and the strike affected about 70 percent of the primary employment in Anaconda, said Jerry Hartman of the local Jobs Service Bureau.

Since the strike ended in November, about half of Anaconda's workers have returned to work either in Butte or at several subsidiary plants still operating in Anaconda.

But for more than 1,000 smelter workers, the decision to close the smelter and refinery means unemployment. And despite efforts by Montana politicians, the company says its decision is final and irrevocable.

Smelter workers received severance pay of up to $3,500. Also, for the time being, their plight is eased by $100 a week supplemental benefits from the Anaconda Company.

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