Surprise Resolution Could End Blythewood’s Cut of Water Deal

WINNSBORO – Town Council was shocked to discover Tuesday night that Blythewood Town Council had, during their meeting earlier the same day, voted unanimously to pass a resolution to terminate the water franchise agreement between the two municipalities. Council said they were completely unaware that Blythewood had even been considering such a move, hearing about it for the first time, Council said, when questioned after Tuesday’s meeting by a reporter from The Voice.

The resolution may, in fact, have been somewhat premature, Winnsboro officials noted, as the contract is binding for another six years – until 2020. And with Winnsboro still owning the existing infrastructure in place beneath the streets of Blythewood, any new provider of water would have to work out a deal with Winnsboro in order to pipe in the supply, or else make an enormous investment to put their own infrastructure in the ground. The one thing the resolution would do for certain, were it legally found to be able to sever the agreement prior to 2020, would be to end the payments made by the Town of Winnsboro to Blythewood for the use of Blythewood’s streets and right-of-ways necessary for Winnsboro to access, service and maintain its infrastructure.

The resolution would not prevent Winnsboro from selling water to Blythewood customers in the future, according to John Fantry, Winnsboro’s legal counsel on water and utility issues. If the resolution was implemented and the agreement canceled, Fantry said Winnsboro could easily bypass the Blythewood right-of-ways to continue to serve customers.

“I don’t know why they would want to cancel that,” Winnsboro Town Manager Don Wood said Tuesday night after learning of the passage of the resolution. “It’s for their benefit. That’s money we collect for them and we turn over to them.”

Currently, Winnsboro has approximately 750 taps in and around Blythewood. Wood said Winnsboro collects 1.5 percent on each water bill and transfers that money to Blythewood annually. Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross, however, said the fee only amounted to around $13,000 a year, and the resolution was less about money and more about ensuring future development for Blythewood.

“This is about an economic development issue – Doko Village – that came to us and was dead in the water because the developer went to Winnsboro and couldn’t get water,” Ross said. “We can’t grow, and there’s plenty of water available from Columbia. They’re supplying us already.”

Blythewood is indeed supplied by the Capital City, thanks to a deal two summers ago between Winnsboro and Columbia that brought up to 400,000 gallons a day through Winnsboro’s meters and into Blythewood homes and businesses. The deal was revised last year to bring the amount up to as much as 1 million gallons a day. That revision was put in place largely to help supply Fairfield County’s new Commerce Center on Peach Road. The Doko Village project, Ross said, would have been a tremendous boon for Blythewood, bringing homes and businesses into the community.

But as large a part as future growth played in Tuesday’s resolution, Ross said another factor instilled fear in Blythewood. When word leaked out earlier this month that a private corporation was interested in purchasing Winnsboro’s Blythewood infrastructure, Ross said Blythewood “hit the panic button.”

“I think it sent up a red flag that that infrastructure could be sold out from under us,” Ross said. “It scares me a little when private enterprise gets involved with public utilities.”

That private enterprise, Ni America, LLC, which owns Palmetto Utilities in Elgin, recently approached the Town of Winnsboro, according to a source close to the situation, and threw down an $800,000 offer. But Tuesday night, Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said the Town was not, in fact, in negotiations.

“We’re not anywhere with it,” Gaddy said. “We haven’t set a price on anything. We’re not in the process of negotiating anything.”

Councilman Stan Klaus agreed, and said after the meeting that Ni America had come to Winnsboro “to talk,” but that there were no negotiations to sell. The Voice’s source also said the rumored “negotiations” barely even qualified as “talks,” and that he felt it was very unlikely Winnsboro would be interested in selling.

“That’s real easy to say,” Ross said. “We’re just trying to look out for the future of the Town of Blythewood.”

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