County, Town Clear the Air on Water Debacle

Deal for industry imminent; Sewer for Middle Six dead

WINNSBORO – With a deal between Winnsboro and the City of Columbia for an additional 600,000 gallons of water a day marked ‘dead on arrival,’ the major players in the rush to provide water for the County’s new industrial parks met at the Midlands Technical College QuickJobs campus in Winnsboro April 17 to clear the air and hammer out a solution.

“Ninety-eight percent of the problem is we have a lack of communication,” County Administrator Phil Hinely said a day after the meeting. “What was happening was our engineers were saying we need X amount of water and X amount of sewer, and the Town was saying ‘We don’t have that’.”

But those “X’s,” Hinely said, represented the County’s need for a fully occupied, complete build-out of the parks, which could take as long as 20 years.

“Instead of a full build-out, we’re actually asking for a smaller amount of water,” Hinely said. “Meanwhile, we will recruit industries that use less water – light manufacturing, assembly. Industries that don’t use water in their production, but only use water for bathrooms, sinks, drinking fountains and fire pressure.”

Although the bulk of the meeting took place in executive session, it did not, however, take place in a sound-proof room, and the frustrations on both sides of the table were clearly audible in the Midlands Tech hallways. Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy has made it no secret that the Town has hit an impasse with Columbia and has no intentions of signing a contract that would allow Columbia to decrease volume and increase rates without notice. Columbia would also not guarantee the quality of the water, nor was it prepared to take responsibility for Winnsboro’s water lines if they suffered damage as a result of a Columbia error. Gaddy has also never hidden his frustration with the County, which he said undertook the industrial park projects without consulting Winnsboro on their ability to provide water.

The County, on the other hand, has been adamant that they indeed jumped through all necessary hoops to request water for the parks, and have the paper trail to support that claim.

“It was a good airing of the soul,” John Fantry, special counsel to the Town of Winnsboro, said. “And we saw some pathways to moving forward. It got down to everybody knows what everybody else did, but how do we get moving forward? Plans (to provide water to the industrial parks) are forming.”

David Ferguson, Chairman of Fairfield County Council, said the County wasn’t even aware the deal between Winnsboro and Columbia was dead until he read about it in The Voice, but said he was determined to do whatever it takes to get water to the parks.

“If I have to go down and negotiate a contract, I will,” Ferguson said. “It’s not my job, but I’ll do it. If they can’t go down there and talk to someone like they’ve got some sense, then I’ll do it.

“The dumbest thing we could do would be to bring in a 100-job plant in that park and tell them we can’t give them water,” Ferguson said. “That would be dumb on my part.”

At Monday night’s County Council meeting, Ferguson announced another casualty from the April 17 water meeting – the future of sewer lines in the Middle Six community.

On April 8, the County held a public hearing on an application for a Community Development Block Grant to install lines and provide sewer service to approximately 72 low- to moderate-income homes on Old Camden Road and Flora Circle. The County was prepared to pony up $50,000 in matching funds for the project, but after the April 17 meeting, that project is dead.

“The Mayor (Gaddy) told us they were not interested in taking on that project for financial reasons,” Ferguson said. “They pretty well walked away from it. I know that was very concerning to Mr. (District 7 Councilman David) Brown. He had been trying for 14 years to get sewer service out there. They have terrible, terrible sewer problems there. I hate it worked out that way, but we don’t have the sewer system and we don’t have the water system, so we have to rely on what other people decide.”