By APOORVA JOSHI
University of Montana School of Journalism
A ruling against The Carlyle Group’s effort to purchase Missoula’s water supply will send the debate straight to court, John Alke, attorney for Mountain Water Co., warned the Montana Public Service Commission at the start of a two-day hearing to consider the sale of the company.
Mountain Water is simultaneously asking the PSC to approve the sale of the company to The Carlyle Group and arguing that the commission lacks jurisdiction to make a yea or nay ruling on that very issue.
The hearing, which is expected to last through Tuesday, is organized into periods of testimony and questioning, and periods of public comment.
After initial introductions, Robert Dove, managing director of the Carlyle Group, and co-head of Carlyle Infrastructure Fund, was sworn in and fielded friendly questions from Carlyle attorney Thorvald Nelson before fielding questions from commissioners.
Dove testified that:
• Existing water management would continue to run Mountain Water under the ownership of Western Water Holdings, which Dove would oversee.
• Value would be added to the company by increasing operating and maintenance efficiencies.
• Water would only be used for Missoula’s community and not as a source for a bottling plant or for export.
The first round of public comment brought both outright opposition to the idea of a major financier owning the water as an investment and a cautious optimism about a side deal that appears to allow the city of Missoula a shot at buying the water company in the future.
Ross Keogh, who founded a Facebook page opposing the sale, said he takes heart from the city’s agreement with Carlyle, but still worries about outside influences on Missoula’s water. Others were less inclined to look for any silver lining:
“I can’t even believe this is on the table in Missoula, “ said Corey Rhyne of Missoula. “This is the worst thing I can think of. If you like water sovereignty, don’t hand it over to Carlyle.”
Cutline: Robert Dove, lead witness for The Carlyle Group, testifies before the Public Service Commission on Monday. Photo/Will Freihofer