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Missoula County to join developers in seeking Mountain Water obligations

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By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

Missoula County commissioners on Thursday agreed to file a motion in District Court to intervene in the ongoing Mountain Water Co. case, saying the county had outstanding contract obligations with the utility valued at roughly $700,000.

Members of the Civil Division with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office plan to file their petition on behalf of the county in District Court this week.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, as everyone knows, in all of this,” said John Harte, an attorney with the county’s Civil Division. “Given that uncertainty and the current state of affairs, it’s our office’s strong recommendation – in the interest of the taxpayers – that we intervene in this action and ask the court to determine what our rights are.”

The commissioner’s decision comes one month after a group of Missoula developers filed their own petition to intervene in District Court. Their attorney, Robert Bell, said his 23 clients have contracts with Mountain Water worth $11 million.

Who will be responsible for paying those contracts if the city succeeds in its condemnation efforts remains uncertain. The county, like the developers, is looking for clarification from the court to ensure the outstanding contracts are honored.

“The county has some of those contracts,” said Matt Jennings, also with the county’s Civil Division. “We started looking into some of the alternatives to make sure Missoula County’s interests are taken into account as this moves forward.”

Jennings advised the county to not wait for further developments in the evolving case. While the county could initiate its own action, he said it made more sense to coordinate efforts in determining who will be obligated to honor the contracts.

“If the developers get their contracts resolved, it won’t necessarily determine Missoula County’s rights,” said Jennings. “Rather than having two parallel and substantially similar actions, it makes a lot of sense to be coordinating efforts to determine these template contracts.”

The county placed the number of contracts obligated by Mountain Water at between 17 and 20.