- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - The city of Missoula’s efforts to use eminent domain to gain ownership of the water supply and distribution system that serves its residents has seen several court filings in recent days.

The city filed a condemnation action against the global investment firm The Carlyle Group on April 2 to gain ownership of Mountain Water Co. A month later, the city amended its filing to allege that subsidiary Carlyle Infrastructure had reneged on a verbal agreement in which the city would support Carlyle’s purchase of the water system before the Public Service Commission in 2011 in exchange for Carlyle selling Mountain Water to Missoula in February 2013.

On Tuesday, The Carlyle Group filed documents saying that it does not directly own the water system and cannot be named as a defendant, the Missoulian (http://bit.ly/TWUKyN) reported. Carlyle says it owns the companies that own Mountain Water, but it does not directly own the water system.

Separately Tuesday, lawyers for Mountain Water and The Carlyle Group filed a motion asking the city to provide a shorter filing in the condemnation suit.

“The City’s amended complaint is unreasonably long because of the great lengths to which it has gone to prepare and file a public relations piece with the court,” Carlyle’s attorneys wrote. “There are other segments of the amended complaint that are immaterial and were clearly inserted for purposes of conducting a public relations campaign.”

Carlyle asked the court to compel the city to come up with a firm amount of money that Carlyle would receive in exchange for being forced to sell the water system under eminent domain laws.

On May 21, Carlyle announced plans to sell three companies owned by Carlyle Infrastructure subsidiary Western Water Holdings - Mountain Water, Park Water and another California water company - by the end of the year. Mayor Jim Engen has said the city made several offers to buy Mountain Water. Engen said he did not plan to make an offer in the current sale.

Engen said he’s concerned the attempt to acquire the water system will become bogged down in legal maneuverings.

“At some point here, I begin to become concerned that Carlyle is simply living up to its promise that it’s interested in prolonging its action so that the city of Missoula is buried by bills,” Engen told the newspaper. “We would like to come to some agreement with these folks.”

A group of Mountain Water Co. employees filed a motion Wednesday to intervene in the city’s suit, saying they were concerned about what condemnation might mean for their job security and benefits.

Attorney Gary Zadick’s motion said the employees were allowed to intervene in a 1985 case in which the city sought to gain ownership of the water system through eminent domain. Zadick noted the city’s 1985 plan included eliminating jobs and cutting salaries to save money.

City spokeswoman Ginny Merriam said the mayor wouldn’t comment on the employees’ effort to intervene until he spoke with the city’s attorney in the case.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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