A poll found 73 percent of Missoula voters support a public buyout of Mountain Water Company, the sole provider of water in Missoula. The taxpayer-funded poll was commissioned by the mayor's office.
Missoula Mayor John Engen is leading the charge in a eminent domain lawsuit to force the sale of Mountain Water to the city.
Mountain Water’s corporate owner, the Carlyle Group, turned down the city's previous offers to sell.
Instead, Carlyle informed Missoula city officials on Wednesday that Park Water Company, which Mountain Water belongs to, is for sale.
“I think there is some degree of vindication here," said Engen. “We have long said that Carlyle was not a long-term owner of this company. Carlyle has said the company is not for sale. Clearly it is. Clearly we have some opportunity here and we're going to take advantage of that opportunity."
Engen says the city in no longer in a position to make another offer for Mountain Water.
Complicating matters is the way the offer for sale is structured. In addition to Mountain Water, the Los Angeles-based Park Water includes another California water provider called Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company, as well as serving 28,000 of its own customers. All together, Park Water supplies almost a quarter-million people.
Carlyle is selling the whole package -- something Missoula isn’t interested in.
Engen says he doesn't expect the sales posting to affect the lawsuit, but he does believe the lawsuit will affect the sale.
"I think another buyer could enter the picture. The reason we're in litigation is to ensure we have a seat at the table so that we are the most attractive buyer...We will litigate until we can negotiate. We hope that the lawyers can have a conversation. We hope that we can understand whether Carlyle is interested in negotiating or whether we're simply going to proceed with litigation."
Engen says the city has spent $150,000 to-date in legal fees for the lawsuit. Also included in that amount is the $35,000 the city spent conducting the poll measuring Missoula residents’ support of public ownership of Missoula’s water supply.