After years of court battles, it took just six minutes for the city of Missoula to officially own its water utility.
Thursday at 11 a.m. District Court Judge Karen Townsend issued a final order of condemnation after Missoula handed over two checks to pay for Mountain Water.
By 11:06, the order was signed and the utility was in public ownership.
“The quickest part of the entire process,” Mayor John Engen noted after the hearing. “Now we’re in the business of running a water company.”
The city paid $83.87 million to Mountain Water and $6.8 million to developers who did unpaid work for the company during the condemnation hearing.
Mountain Water’s lawyers inspected the physical checks, which were accompanied by affidavits from U.S. Bank and Engen promising the checks wouldn’t bounce.
The Carlyle Group’s lawyer, Bill Mercer, made a last-minute attempt to stop the transfer, claiming Missoula owed more payments before the order of condemnation could be made.
He also brought up the matter of attorneys' fees, which Carlyle and Mountain Water have appealed to the State Supreme Court.
Townsend noted there is an escrow account set up to pay the attorneys' fees depending on the outcome of the appeal and issued the order anyway.
“Now money’s being paid and now is the time possession is taking place,” Townsend said.
Mercer said he’d file for the payments soon, hinting the legal battles aren’t over.
Engen plans to speak to employees at the West Broadway headquarters Friday morning.
City Water Superintendent Dennis Bowman, who previously worked for Mountain Water, is set to start work Friday as well.
The Montana Public Service Commission, which oversees private utilities, issued a statement on the condemnation Thursday.
“Mountain Water has been a good steward of the Missoula water system for over 100 years and I hope that trend continues under the City’s ownership,” Commissioner Bob Lake, R-Hamilton said.
The commission noted it cut Mountain Water’s rates in 2016, to $1.92 per 100 cubic feet of water (along with a $17.62 service charge) for metered customers and $50.53 a month for flat-rate users.
The rates won’t increase until 2021, Engen said, when a 2 percent increase is planned.
Engen said the city is aware its days in court aren’t over, but was only mildly concerned over impending injunctions and appeals from the now-former utility owners.
“Frankly, what remains are details. And details we can handle.”