City postpones $96M water agreement with Liberty another week

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council intended Thursday to approve a settlement agreement with Liberty Utilities Co. to transfer Mountain Water Co. to city ownership, though it was postponed another week as the final details are worked out.

While the city and Liberty have already reached a tentative agreement, Mayor John Engen said the final document would be considered in a special meeting of the City Council next week.

“We are very close to having the details of the settlement agreement done, but they are not,” Engen said. “Liberty needs to look at a number of provisions. Your legal team was on the case until about 10 p.m. last night.”

Under the terms of the general agreement, announced last month, the city will pay Mountain Water roughly $83.7 million for the system and make payments to all parties named in a parallel court case regarding developer fees.

The city will also pay attorney fees for the system’s former owner, The Carlyle Group, and cover any transitional fees to bring the system into city ownership. The total payments amount to roughly $96.4 million.

“We had a phone call with them (Liberty) this morning and will have another call with them tomorrow on status,” the mayor said. “We expect to bring this to you next week, most likely again as a function of a special meeting. The reason we’re doing these special meetings is to try to stick to a closing timeline so we can begin operating the system.”

The city is already gearing up to operate what will become Missoula Water and, on Thursday, the City Council approved a $225,000 project to replace the century-old water mains below Orange Street.

John Wilson, the city’s public works director, said the timing of the project was ripe, since the Montana Department of Transportation already has the street torn up to install a roundabout at the Interstate 90 interchange.

“Mountain Water started this project some time ago, but we picked it up a few months ago to take it through to completion,” Wilson said. “Everything is in place to start the work.”

Wilson said the project will replace the 103-year-old lead mains under Orange Street with modern 8-inch water mains. Funding for the project will come from capital expenditures as part of the city’s financing of its Mountain Water purchase.

“This is a prime example of why we’re getting our water, so we can get things fixed up and not have 103-year-old lead pipes lying around,” said Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com