Fairfield County Considers Water Authority

With a deadline for committing to a proposed countywide water authority a little more than a month away, Fairfield County Council held a special called meeting Aug. 15 to weigh the benefits of participating and the risks of turning their backs on the effort.

Under the proposed plan for a water authority, members will be expected to contribute $5,000 to a Charter Committee bank account to raise capital for incorporating costs. If at least $15,000 hasn’t been raised by the Sept. 30 deadline, the entire project goes up in smoke.

“If we haven’t raised that money by the September deadline, then the Town will probably have to look at phasing distributors off the system,” John Fantry, special counsel to the Town of Winnsboro, said earlier this month. “It is a ‘pay to play’ system. If Winnsboro is the only one putting up any money to do this, if other people aren’t committed, then we’re going to have to take care of ourselves, and that means cutting people off of wholesale water.”

County Councilman David Brown, who said he has, in the past, been a proponent of the County establishing its own water and sewer service, said a water authority appears to be a much more viable option.

“How can we justify speeding millions of dollars with no customer base, other than the industrial park?” Brown asked. “How can we go out and tell our constituents were going to spend $100 million on water and sewer when we don’t have a single customer? That’s my concern with us getting in the water business.”

“I suggest we go along with it,” Brown added.

Council vice chairman Dwayne Perry said he was concerned with the apparent lack of participation by other water providers in the county.

“If we’re going to make this a partnership, we’ve got two purveyors who are not at the table, in Jenkinsville and Mitford,” Perry said. “If we’re going to look at growing this entire county, we need to be joined as partners. If we don’t have all the stakeholders at the table, I think we’re missing a great opportunity.”

The Town of Ridgeway and Mid-County Water are the only two water providers to have so far expressed any positive interest in joining the Town of Winnsboro in forming the Regional Water Supply Authority for Fairfield County. The Jenkinsville Water Company (JWC) purchases approximately 50 percent of its water from Mid-County, which in turn buys water from Winnsboro; but Gregrey Ginyard, president of the JWC Board of Trustees, said two weeks ago that his company is not interested in joining the authority.

“At this time, we don’t feel like that would be beneficial for us,” Ginyard said. “We can’t see turning the Jenkinsville Water Company over to someone else.”

Ginyard added that he was not overly concerned about the possibility of being cut off from Winnsboro water.

“We’re working on other water sources,” Ginyard said. “We’re looking at putting in more wells and we’re applying for grants for a treatment plant so we can pull water out of the river.”

The Mitford Water Company said they would like to have joined in the project, but were locked into a contract with Chester County for the next 30 years or more. Mitford Water serves approximately 900 customers in Fairfield County.

David Ferguson, Council Chairman, suggested Council ask Margaret Pope, of the Pope Zeigler law firm, to come before Council and present on an overview of how a water authority would work and what the benefits would be. Pope’s firm is assisting Santee Cooper and the Town of Winnsboro in forming the proposed water authority.

“If we don’t get in on this, we’re shot in the foot,” Brown said. “There’s got to be some mechanism (to get water throughout the county). It’s going to either be through the water authority or we are going to have to get into the water business, and how much is that going to cost?”