The city of Missoula has filed to obtain its privately owned water system through eminent domain. The complaint was filed in District Court. The city has been trying to negotiate a purchase of the Mountain Water company from its owner, the Carlyle Group, but has not been able to reach agreement. Missoula is the only major Montana city not to own its water system, and Mayor John Engen says it's in the public's best interest to control its water. He says the current owner is only interested in profit and has not been a good steward of the water system.
"Carlyle has always been about the money," said Engen. "So what we've seen over the course of its ownership...is that the rates have gone up, and investment has not kept pace with the needs of the system."
The city's effort to force a transfer of ownership through the courts is controversial. The legal process will be costly - in the millions - and could take years. Engen is hopeful Carlyle will come back to the negotiating table but he says the city is prepared to go forward.
"We believe that we are risking dollars that we can recover, for a reward that we think is pretty dramatic," Engen said.
The Carlyle group has not responded to a request for comment.