Public voices support for eminent domain case against MWC (November 4, 2014)

The city of Missoula should continue its fight to own Mountain Water Company despite the difficulties along the way, according to a vast majority of citizens who gave public comment Monday.

Said Patricia Hogan: I think this is a great fight, and I’m glad you have the stomach for it.

Said John Pilsworth, who is looking out for his grandchildren and great grandchildren: Water is a necessity. It’s a source of life. And it’s being privatized, and wealth is made off of this. Basically what I’d like to see is the city control their own water system.

Said Anne Little, who uses a lot of water as a small business owner: I want you to do what needs to be done to get our water.

Said Mark Anderlik, who urged the city to stay on course: I think this is something so fundamental to the future of Missoula and the citizenry that I think it is worth the risk, and I think it is worth the investment.

In April, the city of Missoula took Mountain and owner The Carlyle Group to court to try to force a sale of the water utility to the city. Monday, the council voted 11-0 to give Mayor John Engen full authority to enter into contracts related to the acquisition; Councilman Adam Hertz was absent.

At the hearing, a handful of opponents spoke as well, including the current and former presidents of Mountain Water Co. Arvid Hiller, retired president, said he remembered the last time the city of Missoula filed its losing eminent domain case against the company in the 1980s, and he urged the council to prevent another historical blunder.

You will not prevail in this court again, Hiller said. I have a lot of experience in this area.

In a brief report before the public hearing, Mayor John Engen shared the money the community would save under public ownership. Over 20 years, he said, the city would save some $157.5 million given dividends currently paid to Carlyle, some $4 million annually in deferred maintenance, and other costs to the tune of $8 million a year.

Jim Burchfield said he did not want his grandchildren to be gouged because of the profits a private company takes from a resource that’s necessary for life. He urged the council to acquire Mountain Water because there is no substitute for water.

Potable water in the West will become more scarce in the future, and as it becomes more scarce, it will become more valuable, Burchfield said.

Miles McCarvel shared a dangerous experience he had when a water line broke downtown under a tower crane that was up 120 feet in the air. It created a deep and gurgling pool of water, and he said the cause was not the crane but Mountain’s old water lines.

McCarvel said workers who tried to shut off the water found many of Mountain’s valves were not working. The break almost shut down the entire city center for the day, and people could have been hurt, he said.

It could have been a major crane collapse falling on the Bon Marche or something like that, McCarvel said of the Missoula Mercantile building.

John McInnis, though, said in 47 years, he does not have one complaint about the Missoula water system. He said the company is run well, and its rates are fair.

I think you’re trying to push the people into this, and I don’t see any necessity, McInnis said.

Claudia Narciso, on the other hand, does see necessity, and imminently. She said if the $42 million parks bond passes, the city will need water for new ballfields.

I support efforts made to purchase the water or otherwise condemn it, Narcisco said.

Source: KELSEY JAE WARDWELL, Missoulian