Deal to Bring Columbia Water to Blythewood Dodges Bullet

The water hookup from the City of Columbia to the Town of Winnsboro water system has yet to begin, and another delay last week threatened to derail 10 months of negotiations between the two municipalities for months to come, a roadblock that could potentially have left Blythewood at the mercy of City of Columbia water rates.

“We had a bump in the road on the engineering design,” John Fantry, special counsel to the Town of Winnsboro, said. “We had to go back and have words on that, and that put us a little behind on our hook-up date.”

Fantry met with Blythewood Mayor Michael Ross and Town Administrator John Perry Monday afternoon to bring them up to date on issue, which Fantry said has been resolved. The project will move forward, Fantry said, once the amended agreement between Winnsboro and Columbia has been signed. Fantry said it was not clear if the adjusted agreement would require approval by Winnsboro Town Council.

“We’ve had great cooperation from Mayor Ross and Mr. Perry,” Fantry said. “We may need a vote on the new letter, but as soon as it is signed, the City of Columbia is going ahead. Hopefully, there is nothing in this document that will put this thing astray.”

In March, Winnsboro Town Council authorized Town Manager Don Wood to sign a Bulk Water Contract with the City of Columbia to temporally serve the Blythewood area with water. The agreement will allow Columbia to furnish water to Winnsboro water customers in Richland County, due to the drought conditions in Fairfield County, and the hookup between the entities was expected to take 60 to 90 days, as a new pumping station is needed, at the expense of the Town of Winnsboro. Winnsboro has been operating under an Extreme Drought Proclamation since February, and will continue to do so until water flows from a new Columbia connection, when a maximum 400,000 gallons per day of treated water is available to Winnsboro’s Richland County customers, mainly in the Blythewood community.

“We were making progress with the water connection line,” said Wood. “Then we received notice from engineers for Columbia that the water pumping station had to be built to higher specifications. That would have cost us four times what was in the original contract and that DHEC had already approved.”

“We didn’t want that setback,” Wood continued. “So I called and had some discussion with Columbia’s City Manager (Steve Gantt). He said he would sign the approval and get it in the mail. The hook up will still take 60 to 90 days.”

Wood said a temporary pump will be used for the Columbia water connection. The rental pump will cost $6,980 for the first month, as that amount includes delivery, installation and disinfection. The cost after the first month is $4,400 per month.

A water rate adjustment is being imposed on Winnsboro water customers due to the additional costs of water purchased from Columbia, diesel fuel costs, pump rental and legal/professional fees.

At a special called Town Council meeting May 29, Council member Danny Miller made a motion that retail water rates be uniformly adjusted for the Town’s Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget, so that both inside and outside town limit customers pay the same water rate increase of 22 percent. Council member Clyde Sanders seconded the motion. Mayor Roger Gaddy, Sanders and Miller voted to approve, Council member Jack Wilkes voted no, and Council member Bill Haslett was not present when the vote was taken.

Minutes of the Town of Winnsboro’s Water, Sewer and Gas Committee meeting held May 22 state that Fairfield County Chairman David Ferguson, who attended the meeting, requested that the Town review the rate increases for the out-of-town customers, asking that the in-town and out-of-town rates be the same.

A month ago, when finalizing the Town’s 2012-2013 budget, a water rate increase of 10 percent for all in-town residential retail customers and a 26 percent increase for all out-of-town residential retail customers was being considered by Town Council.

“We got a lot of calls about the water rate increase,” said Wood. “We just had to adjust it to make the numbers work.”

The rate increases could have been much higher, Fantry said, had Winnsboro been forced to conform to the requested design upgrades.

“The design request would have cost us a tremendous amount of money and the rates would have been blown out of proportion,” Fantry said. “We got it worked out, but I was not sure that was going to happen.”

James Denton contributed to this story.