Mountain Water purchase “weeks or months” away, city says

Dale Bickell

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The city of Missoula expects to acquire Mountain Water Co. in a “matter of weeks or months,” the city’s chief administrative officer told the City Council on Wednesday.

Either way, the purchase is imminent.

Dale Bickell, the city’s CAO, brought the council up to speed on last week’s court ruling in which Missoula District Judge Karen Townsend ordered Mountain Water to recalculate the attorney fees it’s seeking from the city in the case.

While Mountain Water had asked the judge to approve roughly $7.1 million in attorney fees, Townsend found the fees too steep and has asked the company to recalculate its claims.

“The way the ruling was done, the defendants have to compile more information and give it back to the judge so she can calculate that actual fee,” said Bickell. “Based on our estimates, it should be about $4 million to $4.5 million.”

Missoula Mayor John Engen called the ruling favorable to the city, a point on which Bickell concurred. He said the court discounted witness fees and professional consulting fees roughly 35 percent, and discounted estimated lawyer fees roughly 40 percent.

“Those are the types of things she did,” Bickell said. “When our attorneys went back through, the totals we had when we were defending our position, they estimated that as a $4 million to $4.5 million total bill.”

Engen said the ongoing legal battle over the water system has cost the city roughly $7 million in total costs. And while the case is winding down, several issues remain outstanding before the courts, including the cost of improvements made to the system since the valuation hearing in 2015, and so-called developer agreements.

Bickell said the later issue is slowing down the city’s next step in buying the system and taking ownership as Missoula Water.

“When the city is ready, it will file its motion to take possession,” Bickell said. “We expect to close within 30 days after that. It’s pretty close on when we’d take possession. It’s down to weeks and months.”