Missoula water utility sold to private company 'without state permission'
MISSOULA, Mont. - Liberty Utilities purchased Mountain Water, Missoula's water utility, the Montana Public Service Commission announced Monday. Liberty purchased Mountain Water's parent company, Park Water, in California and Mountain Water from the Carlyle Group for $327 million.
Officials say the sale went through Friday without PSC approval. PSC communications director Eric Sell told NBC Montana this is unprecedented. Sell said the PSC met with attorneys Monday. The announcement prompted them to file court papers Monday afternoon to try to lift a court-ordered stay. Commissioners want to talk to officials from the city, Liberty and Mountain Water. The motion says the only purpose is to hear what all sides have to say about the sale. Missoula Mayor John Engen released a statement that said, in part, "The reality is that the City of Missoula won the condemnation case and has the court order to prove it. The City has the right to take possession of the water system at a price that has been determined in court." The City of Missoula went to court to sue for ownership of Mountain Water under state eminent domain laws. A judge approved the purchase and the city was set to go to court Monday over the value of the water company, but instead the city dropped its appeal Friday. Some residents we talked with say they want Missoula to own its water. "We have a stake in how it's run and the upkeep of it and how much is charged for the utility," said Missoula resident David Tyson. A commenter on KECI's Facebook page said, "I think it's awesome. Engen wants to play ball with the big boys but he is way out of his league. This sale was being negotiated before the city even started." Last week Engen said the city's next step would be to wait on an appeal currently in Montana Supreme Court filed by the Carlyle Group challenging the initial condemnation suit. ---
The following is a news release from Liberty Utilities:
Liberty Utilities announced the completion of its acquisition of Mountain Water Company as part of a larger purchase of Park Water Company. Based in Downey, California, Park Water owns and operates three regulated utilities engaged in the production, treatment, storage, distribution and sale of water including Mountain Water in Missoula and two other utilities in Southern California. The three utilities collectively serve approximately 74,000 customer connections and have more than 1,000 miles of distribution mains.
"We have been working together with Park Water Company over the last several months to ensure a smooth transition and we're looking forward to delivering high-quality service to all of our new water customers for decades to come," said Greg Sorensen, President of Liberty Utilities Co.
Missoula customers can be assured that the local people who serve them today will continue to serve them in the future. Operational decisions about resource conservation, infrastructure improvement, customer care and more will be local decisions, made by the same managers and employees who have served Missoula well for so many years. Liberty Utilities is committed to providing best-in-class customer care delivered at the local level and we will continue to be an active participant in this community. We look forward to being a good neighbor that remains focused on corporate responsibility, environmental protection and conservation, and preserving local jobs.
"Mountain Water has been honored to serve our customers in Missoula for many years," said John Kappes, General Manager of Mountain Water. "We have no doubt that Libe1iy Utilities, as an experienced utility that prides itself on community-oriented values, local management and custorner service, commitment to safety, and focus on corporate responsibility, will head a water utility system that continues to make decisions in the best interest of Montana's water resources and customers," said Mr. Kappes.
The sale to Liberty Utilities was originally announced in September, 2014.
Liberty Utilities is a regulated water, natural gas and electric transmission and distribution utility, delivering responsive and reliable essential services to over 560,000 customers across the United States. With a local approach to management, service and suppo1i, we deliver efficient, dependable services to meet the needs of our customers. Liberty Utilities provides a superior customer experience through walk-in customer centers, locally focused conservation and energy efficiency initiatives, and programs for businesses and residential customers. We measure our performance in terrns of service reliability, an enjoyable customer experience, and an unwavering dedication to public and workplace safety.
The following is Missoula Mayor John Engen's full statement:
The company that lost Mountain Water Company (Carlyle) just purported to sell the company to Canada (Algonquin/Liberty). Carlyle's and Algonquin's announcement and supposed sale have no legal effect. The reality is that the City of Missoula won the condemnation case and has the court order to prove it. The City has the right to take possession of the water system at a price that has been determined in court.
The Carlyle Group, Algonquin and Liberty are taking inconsistent legal positions. In the process, they have thumbed their noses at two Montana State District Courts (Judge Townsend and Judge Halligan) and the Montana Public Service Commission. Only after Carlyle and Mountain Water lost the water system in court did they pursue this desperate course of action.
Carlyle and Mountain Water have shown a complete disregard for Montana Courts and Montana law, and Algonquin/Liberty appear not to be paying attention. While Carlyle and Mountain Water still think they are above the law, the City expects they and their Canadian friends will continue to lose in Court, and the water system will be in Missoula's control soon.