Everything on the Table for Water Authority

WINNSBORO – Representatives of Mid-County Water and the four local governments (Fairfield County Council and the towns of Winnsboro, Ridgeway and Blythewood) exploring the possibility of forming a regional water authority met Wednesday afternoon at Midlands Technical College in Winnsboro to discuss the framework of the project. While much of the discussion, chaired by Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy, revolved around meeting procedures and proposed bylaws, the topic with the most bearing on the future of the authority was ownership of the water system itself.

“What is going to be the system that the regional water authority wants to own?” Margaret Pope, an attorney with the Pope Zeigler law firm advising the committee, asked. “I believe the Town of Winnsboro has the only water treatment plant of all the members here.”

Gaddy told the committee that, as far as the Town of Winnsboro was concerned, all options for the water plant were on the table.

“From the Town of Winnsboro’s standpoint, nothing is set in stone,” Gaddy said. “Winnsboro has been supplying the water, but it’s getting to the point where it’s become so expensive, and with future costs we know that’s something Winnsboro is not going to be able to absorb by itself.”

Gaddy said Winnsboro has a preliminary agreement with South Carolina Electric and Gas (SCE&G) to draw up to 1 million gallons of water a day from Lake Monticello, but getting that water into Winnsboro will be expensive. That kind of expense, he said, is exactly the kind of thing a regional water authority could help cover.

“You’ve still got to run the water to the reservoir,” Gaddy said. “That’s going to cost probably $8 – $12 million. If you’re going to try to get some funding for it from the federal government or other special funding, they look more favorably on a water authority that represents Mid-County, Blythewood, Ridgeway and Winnsboro. That’s going to carry a lot more clout.

“We don’t necessarily have any proprietary feeling that we’ve got to own the water plant or we’ve got to be the wholesale provider,” Gaddy continued. “My feeling is that if the group doesn’t want that, that’s fine. If they want us to be the wholesale provider, that’s fine too. I don’t want anybody walking into this meeting thinking the Town of Winnsboro has got a pre-set agenda of how we expect this thing to look and what we want out of it.”

Gaddy said the water plant is in need of upgrades, which represent an additional expense, and the Town is also saddled with the upkeep of the entire system that feeds Blythewood, Ridgeway and Mid-County.

“Even though we’ve spent millions of dollars on water, there’s about a 1 percent profit margin,” Gaddy said. “We’re not making a killing off water.”

David Ferguson, Chairman of Fairfield County Council, said the County was not necessarily interested in becoming a water provider, but wants to ensure water is available for County economic development projects now and in the future.

“With the investments we’ve made (in the new industrial park) on Peach Road, we need to be proactive,” Ferguson said. “That’s what the County’s looking at. The distribution and that kind of stuff, we’re really not interested in it. We have property on Highway 200 and I-77, we have that industrial park (on Peach Road), and as soon as we get that one up and where it needs to be that will not be the only park in the county. We’ve got to know we’ve got the resources at Highway 200 and 77 to do the same thing we’ve planned to do on Peach Road.

“I don’t think we did a real good job of getting to this place,” Ferguson said, “but we need to do a good job moving forward.”

Mid-County Water has yet to convert their governing body to a public entity, a transition necessary before officially joining any water authority. The other governing bodies represented on the steering committee have yet to pass resolutions necessary for joining. The Town of Ridgeway has held public hearings on the matter, but has thus far not held a vote.

The committee also discussed how the existence of the authority might affect future water rates for consumers.

“That depends on what the water authority wants to buy,” Gaddy said, referring to Winnsboro’s treatment plant. “If they want to buy everything, the rates will go up quite a bit. They will go up no matter what. It’s just a matter of degree.”

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