“Mountain Water for Missoula, not the Carlyle Group”

That’s the name of a group that’s formed on FaceBook. Are any of your friends fans? You can see their updates on your page if you “like” them.

I mentioned “Mountain Water for Missoula, not the Carlyle Group” in this story about the way the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is helping some cities and towns write ordinances to assert power over corporations.

There’s plenty of bubbling from folks in Missoula who want the city to own its own water supply. People are writing letters to Mayor John Engen (a trickle, not a deluge, he said, but none opposed to municipal ownership), and in the story, he said he’d like to buy it but so far there isn’t a willing seller. He’s hoping for one in the future.

I’m going to follow up on that story and talk with someone who knows the law about the viability of the movement. It’s been more popular in conservative areas; some progressives prefer change happen within the existing legal framework.

But the FB group popped up here, and I’d like to know if some local ordinance can be used that puts the city of Missoula first in line to buy if the company goes on the market and the city offers a fair price. How would a lawyer craft something like that?

The horse has probably left the barn when it comes to the current deal, but it’s an interesting idea to explore.

— Keila Szpaller

8 thoughts on ““Mountain Water for Missoula, not the Carlyle Group”

  1. The first thing to do would be to review all the Missoulian stories about the last time the City tried to buy the water system back in 1985, the ensuing court battles and finally the Montana Supreme Court decision of 1987. No sense repeating the mistakes of a quarter century ago.

  2. Also, buying a corporation and converting it into an enterprise fund could be tricky – I’d assume the City would create an enterprise fund similar to the sewer service. Investors, including stockholders (401Ks and all), would have to be divested. I can imagine a great deal of push-back to that. If the corporation went bankrupt, however, I could see a bankruptcy judge almost giving the company over to the City.

    Oh, and I agree with Geoff. I was too young to remember any of that though.

  3. Right, but wasn’t the idea then to condemn it and buy it for peanuts? What I’m wondering is if there’s some legal lever the city could pull that puts it at the head of the line to buy 1)IF whoever owns it wants to sell and 2)IF the city can pay a fair price. Curious.

  4. Ryan’s right. One of the issues back in the 80’s was, if the City were successful in acquiring Mountain Water Company, how were their employees going to be brought into the City organization? Obviously, acquisition of the water system has the most benefit when the people who built it and operated it all these years come along with the pipes and pumps. Those people deserve to be treated fairly, as do existing City employees. How would their pay schedule mesh with the City’s pay plan? What about their retirement? Work rules including seniority, vacation, benefits, etc. ? Collective bargaining agreements, if any? These questions all have answers, but not necessarily easy or inexpensive ones.

    Right now the City has other, very pressing issues to take up with. It seems starting the discussion about acquisition has begun, though, and can’t simply be ignored. If it proceeds, the best thing is to go into it with eyes wide open, and determine whether it is anything that will be seriously considered. The citizens who are interested in this deserve some response to the questions being raised.

  5. “I condemn thee.” Sounds biblical! 🙂

    I think the City would have a hard case to prove that Mountain Water should be condemned and purchased under eminent domain or something.

    I don’t think there is a legal lever that gives the City the right of first refusal for the acquisition of Mountain Water – unless there was some agreement made way back when. I think corporate law prevails in this case and Mountain Water is up to highest bidder that can get PSC approval. The PSC may decide that Mountain Water is best kept in the hand of the City, but they’d likely get sued by any firm seeking to acquire MW – and probably lose.

  6. Melanie, Please get George Crandall on the phone and, no, I won’t work with Don. Book them downtown and get this solved. Maybe try that boutique hotel ALPS is opening. Heard it’s cute.

  7. Can the proverbial horse which left the barn be led to water? Or led to leaded water? No matter in Missoula~~our air ostensibly comes from the ocean in daily pristine cloud waves and as to water? Hell, let them drink micro-brew!

  8. PSC Commissioner Gail Gutsche made a comment the other day about the condition of the Mountain Water Company system in Missoula that has been nagging at me. Hopefully one of the issues that will get a great deal of attention and discussion during the review of the proposed sale of Mountain Water to the Carlyle Group will be the system’s long-acknowledged leakiness. I remember a time when it was commonly said that Mountain Water still used water mains MADE OF WOOD from the early days. That may or may not be true–then or now–but I think it will be a matter of great public interest to know the condition of the system.

    Why? Well, since the water in the system is all pumped from the aquifer, every drop has an immediate cost of energy to get it where it ends up. If a lot of it is lost to leakiness, the customers are paying for it. How much of the system’s delivery cost is made up of energy spent on lost water?

    Next, what is the cost/benefit comparison to continue to pay for the energy to pump water that is certain to leak out of the system, to the benefit of tightening up the system by replacing leaky pipes and connections? The company may have figured out that it is better to pay to lose the water rather than pay for new pipes to avoid the pumping cost.

    There was a time many years ago when Mountain Water Company’s leaking sent water that infiltrated the City’s wastewater (sewer) system and sent extra water to the treatment plant. Has that problem been fixed or are City sewer rate payers still paying for the inefficiencies added to the system by leaking water pipes?

    Finally, does the system’s leakiness leave the community vulnerable to system failure? If the system is indeed leaky, is it leaky enough to fail? If it did, what would be the consequences of a failure? Who would lose service? Would the fix to a failure to the system be greater than ongoing repairs?

    From Commissioner Gutsche’s comment, we are given another reason why the review of the sale should occur in Montana. It’s time the consumers of water have a better picture of the condition of the system that serves them, what it will take to keep it sound, and, in the end, what it will cost the ratepayers to address problems that may exist.

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