An order authorizing the city to take possession of Mountain Water Company, which operates the system that provides the Garden City's drinking water, was filed Wednesday in Missoula County District Court by attorneys for the City of Missoula.
The city has agreed to pay $88.6 million for the water company, after a long legal battle.
Earlier this month, the city won its eminent domain case to buy the water system in a 5-2 decision from the Montana Supreme Court.
Four lawyers for the city wrote a brief in support of Wednesday’s motion: Scott Stearns, Natasha Prinzing Jones, William VanCanagan and Harry Schneider.
They wrote that the city is prepared to transfer the funds to the court along with any remaining costs, fees or damages that the court may assess before entering a final Order of Condemnation.
“Public necessity is fully determined,” the attorneys wrote. “The Montana Supreme Court’s affirmance of the trial court’s ruling is not likely to be revisited on a motion for rehearing or revised on a petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court."
The property's value is not subject to further review, they wrote, because no one appealed the valuation, and the time for any appeal has expired.
The lawyers went on to write that the only issues remaining before the trial court will not affect the city’s entitlement to possession and ultimate ownership, nor will the amount of any further monetary awards prevent the city from taking ownership. There is still ongoing litigation about who pays for the legal bills associated with the battle over ownership of the utility.
Normally, possession of property is transferred by a simple title transfer. In this case, it’s a little more complicated.
"Because the water system is a continuously operating public utility on which the citizens and residents of Missoula depend, transfer of possession requires operational, managerial, and administrative oversight to minimize the possibility of disruption in service,” the lawyers wrote. “Upon payment of the amount of just compensation assessed by the Commissioners, the City is entitled to assume control over all components of the Water System."
The city seeks the court's help in fashioning an orderly process to accomplish a transfer before the city pays the $88.6 million. The city’s lawyers are proposing that the court implement and maintain oversight during the transition period.
The city also asks that the current owners be required to provide all relevant business records and access to the water system so that the city is ready to take over operations upon payment of the money.
The city also wants the current Mountain Water employees to cooperate with the city, and educate city officials with regard to operations and management of the water system.
The city seeks the right to enter Mountain Water premises and view all available equipment and data, including IT systems, accounting data and billing and customer service software. The city is seeking authorization to directly communicate with the employees about the current operation of the water system, but not with regard to the ongoing litigation or financial terms of employment.