A discussion held by the Missoula City Council on the status of the proposed Max Wave exposed the controversy and confusion surrounding the project, which is coming up on several deadlines.
“I believe that the project represents a great opportunity for the city,” Mayor John Engen said. But “the notion of a play-wave is not universally beloved.”
It’s also not universally understood.
The Max Wave is a proposed man-made wave, similar to Brennan’s Wave, that would be built near the Silver Park boat ramp. Included in the project would be fish screens, structures to help fish bypass the wave and improvements to river access and the natural area.
It needs an Army Corps of Engineers permit, along with permissions from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and the Missoula City floodplain authority; consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and a lot of money. The group has already spent about $400,000 on the permitting and design process, and expects to need about $2.2 million for actual construction.
Engen said if the permits for the Max Wave are approved, he would recommend the city take ownership of the whitewater park, and ask the Missoula Redevelopment Agency for financing, and Parks and Recreation for oversight.
The first piece of confusion — the City of Missoula is listed as the applicant for Max Wave permits, which prompted members of the City Council to ask Wednesday: We are?
“Not everyone knew we were the applicant,” Ward 4 representative John DiBari said. “I just want to be sure we’re clear about the terms here.”
Among DiBari’s concerns: that Molly Davidson, a water resources engineer for Morrison and Maierle working for the Max Wave board, is not working for the city while also advocating for fundraising.
Engen said she is not and that he is the contact person for all permit applications, not the Max Wave group.
Representatives of every permitting agency spoke to council, along with several local advocacy groups like the Clark Fork Coalition and Brennan’s Wave board president.
John DeArment, the science director for Clark Fork Coalition, said the group sees the benefits of that section of the river becoming an “engineered whitewater play-park."
“We’re looking at a badly degraded section of the river,” DeArment said. But he asked council to consider also the idea of trying to remake the river into its more natural state, as has been done around the Milltown Dam site in Bonner.
He also cautioned against adding another wave before figuring out ownership and management details, which have become confusing with Brennan’s Wave over the years.
“Until we have a way to guarantee long-term operation and maintenance of the first wave in downtown Missoula, is it wise to build a second one?” DeArment asked.
Brennan’s Wave board chairman Trent Baker told the council that they have taken care of the wave since its construction, and it is in fine condition.
If the Max Wave is approved, DeArment said it would be the first time in Montana when the river would be engineered purely for recreation purposes (Brennan’s Wave modified an existing irrigation structure).
“It’s a modification of the natural habitat.” said Jen Harrington, a member of the Water Quality Council. “The complications may outweigh the benefits.”
The City Council, seeming somewhat overwhelmed with information, planned to ask the Army Corps of Engineers for a 30-day extension on the public comment period, so they had enough time to formulate a constructive opinion.
Council President Bryan von Lossberg said he wanted to discuss the Max Wave again soon in a public forum, but wasn’t sure of an exact date.
“The challenge here is that we don’t have a project yet,” Engen said. “The council doesn’t have an action to take; I don’t have an action to take.”