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Public Service Commission Suing Over Mountain Water Sale

Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.
Cheri Trusler
Mountain Water Company, Missoula, MT.

Montana’s Public Service Commission is suing the private company that supplies Missoula’s drinking water. The Commission says utilities can’t be sold without the regulatory authority’s approval.

Mountain Water Company was sold earlier this month to Liberty Utilities without the knowledge of the PSC.

The sale comes as the City of Missoula continues its months-long quest to buy Mountain Water through condemnation. The City has won the right to do so from a district court judge.

The companies submitted comments this week to the commission saying the PSC doesn’t have authority over the sale the utility company. Today, the PSC unanimously voted that it does have authority to review Mountain Water’s sale.

“The conduct represents a direct attack on the authority of this commission. And it is my hope that the commission’s response in this case will be swift and as severe as the law allows," PSC Chairman Brad Johnson said.

Johnson says the PSC’s past regulatory actions imply PSC authority on this issue. But it’s that implied authority that Liberty and Mountain Water are challenging. Along with the lawsuit, the PSC will investigate Mountain Water’s rates based on the changes in ownership.

Mountain Water Company said in a written statement today that the PSC decision makes no sense under Montana law and the PSC decision won’t change the fact that Mountain Water is now pleased to be a part of Liberty Utilities. The PSC said it will seek council from the attorney general’s office on its suit against Mountain Water.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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