MISSOULA, Mont. - The City of Missoula says a fight that could take years and cost millions will be worth it, if taxpayers can own the city's sole source of water.
Mountain Water is owned by the private investment firm the Carlyle Group.
Wednesday, city officials filed a complaint against Mountain Water to condemn the company through eminent domain. The move is not unexpected and comes after the city made several offers to purchase Mountain Water from Carlyle.
Carlyle turned down the city's last offer for $65 million.
Now, Mayor John Engen says the city has no option but to seize control by force and he says the risk is well worth the cost.
"We believe we are risking dollars we can recover for a reward that is pretty dramatic," Engen says.
Estimates are the city's legal fees could top $800,000 and that's if the city loses the condemnation fight. If it wins, acquisition costs would be at least $4 million, on top of the court-determined price for Mountain Water.
And, if you think a buyout means lower water rates, think again.
"The reality," Engen says, "is those rates will go up. What I believe is, our rates will go up more slowly."
The mayor promises that money will be reinvested in Mountain Water instead of spent appeasing foreign investors.
"Having a company that's owned by investors from around the globe, with much different interests from the folks who live and work here, is scary to me, frankly," says Engen.
In the best-case scenario, Engen says Carlyle will reconsider and sell.
We're told the city will now put engineers into the field to provide a detailed assessment of Mountain Water's infrastructure.
Engen says if the city wins, Mountain Water employees will keep their jobs and their salaries.
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