Columbia-Winnsboro water deal dead

WINNSBORO – The winter rains have come and gone, the reservoir is on the mend and Winnsboro Town Council, at their April 16 meeting, officially lifted draught restrictions for all of its water customers. But with a projected dry summer on the doorstep, there is no guarantee of how long it will be before customers are once more faced with brown lawns, dirty cars and empty swimming pools.

Fairfield County, meanwhile, is looking for a source of water to supply two new industrial parks in the hopes of attracting industry, but unless a new agreement between Winnsboro and the City of Columbia can be resurrected, the chances for that are quickly diminishing.

Town Council announced at their April 16 meeting that they would not be signing the proposed contract with Columbia, an agreement that would have upped the number of gallons already flowing north from the Capital City from 400,000 a day to 1 million. Unless something dramatic happens in the coming weeks, that contract is dead in the water.

“The terms of the contract were so arduous we refused to sign it,” John Fantry, special counsel to the Town of Winnsboro, said. “The document was sent to us as ‘This is all we can do. This is what we give everyone else.’ And it was non-negotiable.”

Fantry said the contract contained language that would allow Columbia to alter the volume at any time, shut the water off at any time and raise the rates at any time – all without notice. Columbia also would not guarantee the quality of water, nor would they accept responsibility for the lines on the Fairfield County side of border if an accident or error occurred on their end that resulted in damage to the Winnsboro lines.

“There were a lot of things in this contract that were in the original 400,000-gallon contract that, after a year and a half of negotiations, got hammered out,” Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said. “All we wanted to do was change the amount from 400,000 gallons to 1 million gallons, and those same things were put back in this contract. We went through all these issues before and we corrected it, and here they are again.”

Calls to the City of Columbia were not returned at press time, but the Town of Winnsboro has given no indication that they are willing to bend to Columbia’s demands. Still smarting, and perhaps exhausted, from the 18-month process to bring the 400,000 gallons a day to Blythewood customers, Winnsboro appears to be looking to pass the baton.

“Winnsboro has done all the legwork, paid the attorneys, and we’re tired of doing the dance,” Fantry said. “If the County can come up with a contract that’s amenable, we’ll sign it, but we’re tired of running back and forth to Columbia. We’re tired of everybody pulling our strings and we’re prepared to stay with the 400,000 gallons and if the water runs out, it runs out.”

Right now, Fantry said, he was bracing himself for the task of telling prospective water customers in Blythewood that they couldn’t hook onto the line.

A meeting between Winnsboro and the County was scheduled for Wednesday (April 17) to discuss water negotiations. For a full report on that meeting, see next week’s edition of The Voice.