The City of Missoula officially filed suit in District Court on Wednesday, April 2, to entitle the city to acquire Missoula water supply and distribution system through eminent domain. 

The city has attempted to purchase Mountain Water outright through negotiations based on a letter with the Carlyle Group, but was rejected. Mayor John Engen said the benefits of owning the water system are worth the risk of a protracted court fight with the Carlyle Group

"This is not something that we have engaged in lightly," Engen said. "I've never imagined exercising the city's right of eminent domain in any circumstance, but I believe that this is so important to the future of our community, and that the risks of not pursuing this opportunity are simply too great. What I hope is that the issue will not be protracted, and that Carlyle can come to the table as a willing seller, recognizing that we are a willing and eager buyer, and that we can come to terms that make sense for both parties."

Engen addressed the issue of the water company no longer being under the purview of the Montana Public Service Commission, should the city be successful in its condemnation effort.

"The concern I've heard is that the Public Service Commission would be a better protector of customers' rights than the city council or city government would be," Engen said. "That body is a five member board elected from various districts around the state, and the commissioner that represents Missoula was not elected with a majority of Missoula voters. However, every one of those city council members is elected by a majority of voters in their wards and they all live in the city, and would be consumers and rate payers of the water system. They are accountable to their constituents every four years, just as I am."

Engen referenced the city's success in managing the water treatment plant, and said he expects the same result with the municipal water system.

The court papers were delivered on Wednesday afternoon to attorneys representing the Carlyle Group.

Missoula Mayor Jon Engen