By William Fanning
Defendant landowners claimed possession of riparian lands bordering the Missouri River. However, the State of Montana proved these lands had emerged vertically from the bed of the Missouri after Statehood and thus were the property of the State under both the public trust and the equal footing doctrines. While the case was in front of the Montana Supreme Court, a legislative amendment to HB 165, personally sponsored by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, identified these lands as State school trust lands. HB 165 further specified that income from “certain islands, abandoned riverbeds, riverbeds, and power sites” be deposited in the public schools’ facility and technology account. Because substantial oil and gas royalties are attached to the lands in this case, the schools received a windfall, and the defendants were left to pay the State’s costs.