Judge sets date for hearing to determine purchase price of MWC (August 15, 2015)

The hearing to set a price for Mountain Water Co. will take place from Nov. 2 through Nov. 6.

Missoula County District Judge Karen Townsend announced the date Friday to the parties, and she also reserved time for a subsequent jury trial, if one is needed.

According to an email from her court, that date is the week of Jan. 11, 2016.

In June, the judge ruled the city has the right to use its power of eminent domain to buy Mountain Water from The Carlyle Group. The water utility and global equity firm have appealed the ruling, but the process to determine just compensation for the company continues nonetheless.

Montana law calls for eminent domain cases to move expeditiously, and the judge wanted to set the hearing to determine the company’s value in August, since interest rates are on the rise.

Mountain Water’s attorney, though, argued higher interest rates aren’t of concern in state statute.

The only thing at issue in this case right now is fair market value, not how much the city is going to pay to finance this case, or system acquisition, said lawyer Joe Conner at an earlier status conference.

Conner also said November was the soonest the players on his team could be available.

Scott Stearns didn’t buy the argument, and he pressed for an earlier hearing.

They seem very unavailable for a couple of experts who have known about this matter for over a year now, said Stearns, a lawyer representing the city.

In the District Court case, water commissioners will determine just compensation for Mountain Water Co.

The city named Steve Doherty as its appointment to the commission, and Carlyle named Fredrick Higgins; a third commissioner also will be selected, either by Doherty and Higgins or by the court if the two can’t agree.

The city and Carlyle have been far apart on the estimated worth of the company. The city offered as much as $65 million before it took Carlyle to court, but Carlyle suggested $120 million as a starting point.

Mountain Water’s sister company in California was recently valued at $45.5 million.

In a separate jurisdiction, Carlyle is trying to sell Mountain Water to the subsidiary of a Canadian conglomerate. A public hearing with the Montana Public Service Commission has not been set in that matter.