The Mountain Water utility is Missoula's for the taking after an Aug. 2 Montana Supreme Court ruling. But maybe it's not time to pop the champagne corks—or, uh, fill our water bottles in victory?—just yet. The city's legal skirmishes with Mountain Water aren't anywhere close to done.
For starters, it's still up in the air how much this whole deal will end up costing the city. Missoula's legal fees currently run north of $6 million. Mountain Water has been valued at $86 million, but the extra cost of developers' agreements could drive that number higher, depending on a court decision. And another District Court proceeding has yet to determine how much of Carlyle's $7 million in attorneys fees the city might be obliged to pay.
There's also another card the city's legal team has yet to play. Mayor John Engen asserted from the get-go that Mountain Water's parent company, The Carlyle Group, promised in 2011 to sell the utility to Missoula. Last October, the city filed a complaint accusing Carlyle of bad faith for not carrying through on the deal.
At the time, the city's lawyers didn't push the matter into a full-blown lawsuit. Dale Bickell, the city's chief administrative officer, says they're looking now to push the bad faith complaint forward.
"It's something that the city is considering and will require more conversation," Bickell says. "We feel we'll have a very good case."
Bickell says the city's attorneys would likely work on contingency, based on the assumption that the city would win and Carlyle will be obligated to fork over the cash to cover Missoula's court fees. Given how favorable the courts have been to Missoula throughout the Mountain Water takeover, Bickell thinks the city can afford to be a little confident.
"Well, certainly after the Montana Supreme Court ruling, we feel very good," Bickell says.
There is a small caveat: As of press time, none of the parties representing Mountain Water, Carlyle or Liberty Utilities have responded to the Supreme Court ruling. Missoula also needs to formally begin the takeover by entering a motion in court, which Bickell says will hopefully happen by Aug. 12. Missoula may have won every battle so far, but the war ain't quite over.