Town, County Look to D.C. for Funds

WINNSBORO – After the long-awaited results of the water feasibility study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, released earlier this year and reviewed by Fairfield County and the Town of Winnsboro two weeks ago, recommended no change to how Winnsboro obtained additional water for its system, representatives from the County and the Town sat down last week with staff members from the office of 5th Congressional District Republican Mick Mulvaney to probe the federal government for funds to expand Winnsboro’s water system.

Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy, Fairfield County Council Chairman David Ferguson, Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry and Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson, as well as County administrators, met with Dan Hamlon, Mulvaney’s district congressional liaison, and Al Simpson, Mulvaney’s Chief of Staff, in the Midlands Technical College conference room on April 24 to review Winnsboro’s needs and to discuss potential funding options. While Winnsboro had its sights set on drawing up to 1 million gallons a day from Lake Monticello, thereby liberating itself from the City of Columbia, the Army Corps recommended just the opposite, suggesting that Winnsboro continue to supplement its reservoir with water purchased from the Capital City.

“Columbia hasn’t been that easy to deal with,” Gaddy said during the April 24 sit-down. “Our experience with dealing with Columbia has been less than ideal. If we were to have an industry that’s a big water user, if they’re looking at Fairfield County or Richland County, then Columbia can give them a break on water up there. But they’re not going to give us a break on what they’re selling us water for. So it puts us at a disadvantage in trying to recruit industry.”

Winnsboro does have a preliminary agreement with SCANA to draw up to 1 million gallons a day from Lake Monticello, on which the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station sits, Gaddy said. But running the infrastructure out to Western Fairfield to tap that source would cost anywhere between $8 and $12 million, Gaddy said, and could take 18 to 24 months to complete.

“If we were able to do that, I think it would give us more leeway and more negotiation power with water rates if we were fortunate enough to have an industry that wanted to come,” Gaddy said, “instead of feeling like we’re having to ride in the backseat to Columbia.”

A municipal bond to fund the project is unfeasible, Gaddy said, because 75-80 percent of the repayment would have to come from water revenues. That would mean a dramatic rate increase, Gaddy said.

But Mulvaney’s staff said help was available, although not, perhaps, in one lump sum. Simpson said several smaller grants could get the project under way, and Hamlon said one such grant is available annually from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“This sounds like this is the money they (the USDA) set aside for exactly what you’re talking about,” Hamlon said. “It’s competitive, but it sounds like you’re on your way.”

“Grants open and close all the time,” Simpson added, and Hamlon said the USDA grant in question was closing in May, but would reopen next year. Grants are more difficult to acquire now than they were a decade ago, Simpson said, but the funds are out there.

“You have to hunt for them,” Hamlon said.

“Anything you can do to point us in the right direction of where we need to dig,” Gaddy said. “I don’t expect you to do the digging, if you’ll just tell us where to dig.”

The first step in obtaining these grants, from both the federal and the state government, is to have a completed study from the Army Corps of Engineers, Mulvaney’s staffers said. In that regard, they noted, Winnsboro was moving in the right direction.

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