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Cobblestones' removal raises preservation questions

BUTTE, Mont. - This city has no policy to prevent contractors from keeping or selling the historic cobblestones they find while digging up streets, a fact that some area residents want to change.

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BUTTE, Mont. - This city has no policy to prevent contractors from keeping or selling the historic cobblestones they find while digging up streets, a fact that some area residents want to change.

The issue was literally uncovered last week when crews from Lockmer Plumbing Heating and Utilities in Butte unearthed a section of cobblestone street while working in front of the Metals Bank Building on Park Street.

Curious people stopped to admire the old stones only to realize they were being hauled away, and not by Butte-Silver Bow employees.

"Butte has already lost so much of its historical artifacts and now we are losing even the cobblestones," said Julie Crowley of Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization. "It's a shame."

Butte-Silver Bow historic preservation officer, Mark Reavis, fielded numerous complaints from residents like Crowley.

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While the project at Park Street near Main Street sparked the public's interest, Reavis said cobblestones have long been removed from city streets and sold by contractors or dumped.

That's because the city has no policy stipulating what should be done when the blocks or curbs are found, even though they have historical and cash value.

He estimates that miles of Butte's cobblestone streets have been lost.

"There is definitely a market for these things, particularly out of town, which is the saddest thing," Reavis said. Each cobblestone block can fetch as much as $20, but typically sell for less than $5 to $10 apiece, depending on the condition, he said.

Reavis plans to discuss the issue Aug. 7 with the historic preservation commission, but it would be up to the council of commissioners to decide whether to adopt new guidelines for cobblestones.

Troy Lockmer, owner of Lockmer Plumbing Heating and Utilities, said he kept some of the blocks his employees uncovered recently on Park Street and that he donated roughly 150 to the Butte Public Archives for future projects.

He wouldn't object to notifying the county in the future, but doesn't believe contractors should be required to foot the bill for recovering the blocks.

"If the county wanted to send a couple guys down to stack them and sort them that wouldn't be a problem," Lockmer said. "They shouldn't be making the contractor do it. It would cost them money."

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While questions remain unanswered, Reavis believes there is enough interest in the issue to at least begin discussion.

"I guess people are seeing the value, they are watching this stuff walk away and there is a real concern," he said.

To see more of The Montana Standard, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.mtstandard.com .

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