Mountain Water 

Liberty responds in debate

On Jan. 29, the Montana Public Service Commission announced its intent to sue Liberty Utilities over its unauthorized purchase of the Mountain Water utility and its parent company. Now Liberty says the PSC is overreaching its authority.

Liberty Utilities President Greg Sorensen and Mountain Water President John Kappes elaborated on their thinking during an interview with the Indy, saying the PSC has no jurisdiction over the purchase of Mountain Water's parent company. That $327 million purchase was announced Jan. 11 as the city of Missoula attempted to negotiate its own deal with the utility's previous owner, The Carlyle Group. The PSC is now planning to levy legal action and seek fines from Liberty.

Sorensen says he "empathizes" with the PSC's frustration over being left out of the discussion.

"We feel that frustration ... is misdirected at us," Sorensen says. "Perhaps people should be looking at the city and the role that they had in this."

Liberty had initially filed an application seeking the PSC's permission for the sale, but then withdrew the application and notified the PSC of the deal's closing. Sorensen claims Liberty had intended to start a friendly relationship with the PSC.

"Originally we certainly applied, in some ways, as a way to make sure that the PSC became acquainted with Liberty Utilities," he says. "The process itself can be a good one for an exchange of information, and a 'getting to know you' phase. And that process had been hijacked by the city and in a way taken out of the PSC's control. So it created a situation where we were no longer able from a business standpoint to continue that process and felt it best to finalize the transaction."

Liberty did seek and receive permission from California regulatory authorities for the purchase. Kappes says that's because California state law clearly outlines that requirement, where Montana does not.

"Montana doesn't have a specific statute of how the PSC should or shouldn't review these kind of transactions," Kappes says. "It's more an implied jurisdiction. Whereas in California there's a clear statute that Liberty did follow through for the whole Park Water, Western Water [transaction], because they were buying Western Water in California."

The PSC argues its authority over the deal is clearly implied by state law. In a statement released Jan. 29, PSC Commissioner Bob Lake wrote, "It's very unfortunate that the PSC was unable to review the purchase application through the proper procedure, but the Commission's actions today aim to ensure that the customers of Mountain Water are not harmed while the utility remains under private ownership."

While the PSC is preparing to bring action against Liberty in court, Mountain Water is also waiting on the result of the Montana Supreme Court's decision on Missoula's eminent domain case. Arguments for that case begin April 22 at the Dennison Theatre in Missoula.

  • Email
  • Favorite
  • Print
Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Farmer Field Day

Farmer Field Day @ Western Cider

Wed., Sept. 20, 2 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

Relevant to News

© 2017 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation