Waiting on the Wave 

Have you seen that? Just downstream of the Higgins Avenue bridge in the Clark Fork River? That’s where Brennan’s Wave—a proposed engineered whitewater feature designed to simultaneously pleasure boaters and divert water—isn’t yet, though searching passers-by can be excused for looking; word on the street has been that construction is upcoming in a week, maybe two, for at least a month now.

It’s not, as it turns out, so simple. The project requires money—an estimated $325,000—of which $300,000 has so far been raised, $125,000 from fund raising and $175,000 from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA). Money, says Missoula Whitewater Board President Spencer Bradford, “is not going to stop us.” The project also requires permits from multiple agencies. According to Land and Water Consulting hydrologist Paul Callahan, who’s shepherding the permitting process, four such permits remain outstanding: a 310 permit from the county, a 318 from the Department of Environmental Quality, a floodplain permit from the city floodplain administration and a Department of Natural Resources and Conservation easement.

Until those permits come in—and there’s no firm schedule governing their approval—actual construction of the diversion dam/play hole, calling for 22 tons of rock in the river, will remain a future prospect.

Which worries some Wave supporters, since there’s an ever-decreasing window of opportunity in which to do the work. It has to be done in low water conditions—basically fall through late winter—for one. And if permitting and construction can’t be accomplished by March, the project will have to wait at least until next fall, carrying it past the June 30 “sunset” date of the tax increment district in which the project lies, after which the availability of MRA’s funding for the project comes into question. “We’re working through the what-ifs,” says MRA Director Ellen Buchanan.

And then there’s always the possibility that the project could bump up against the scheduled removal of Milltown Dam; both projects expect to share a contractor in Envirocon, and once Envirocon gets busy with the dam removal, it’s less likely to have the time to concurrently work on Brennan’s Wave.

Supporters still fully expect the project to proceed, it’s just that no one, from this vantage, can predict when. In the meantime, river-watchers oughtn’t hold their breath; this wave may take some time to crest.

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