Paying to paddle


Paul Callahan calls it a “curveball.” A recent change in laws governing riverbed and riverbank use in Montana has left Brennan’s Wave an unexpectedly expensive attraction.

The change, a result of litigation from a lawsuit last year, removed Brennan’s Wave from a land use license exemption. Now the Brennan’s Wave Organization (BWO), which Callahan helped establish, and project partner Orchard Homes Ditch Company, which legally holds the license, are responsible for a $3,825 annual check to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).

“A land use license is one of the ways the DNRC regulates the use of land held in trust for the schools,” says Michael Sullivan, property management section supervisor for the DNRC.

The river property at Brennan’s Wave is on school trust lands, and the cost of the license reimburses the trust holder for public use.

Missoula attorney Trent Baker, also of the BWO, says the license value will be reappraised in seven years, but the organization cannot pay in perpetuity. The BWO and Orchard Homes plan to approach the city about splitting the cost. Ellen Buchanan, director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA), says she is unaware of the city’s desire to take over the license. Baker says he informed Mayor John Engen of the situation, but adds, “The city is not too excited about the prospect.”

Baker sees the license fee as minimal compared to the benefits Brennan’s Wave offers kayakers and the Missoula community. The spot, located next to Caras Park and west of the Higgins Avenue bridge, has drawn attention to the condition of the Clark Fork, inspiring talk of further cleanup and renovation. The site previously housed a much-deteriorated diversion weir and renovation was inevitable.

Callahan credits Missoula lawyer Karl Englund, currently on the MRA board, with the renovation idea, quoting him as asking several years ago, “How do we get that crap out of the river?” The BWO formed around Callahan, Baker and Spencer Bradford, president of the Missoula Whitewater Association, with the intent of using the site for multiple purposes.

“We’re optimistic. We’re in good shape,” Callahan says. “It was a curveball we were thrown…but everyone’s optimistic it’s a good project.”


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