Town Taps Mediator in Water Dispute

WINNSBORO – In a special meeting held almost entirely in executive session on July 17, Town Council voted 3-0 to pursue arbitration in its dispute with the Town of Blythewood over the termination of a water franchise agreement and to hire Robert Bachman as the Town’s arbitrator in the matter.

Last April, Blythewood abruptly and without warning passed a resolution to terminate the agreement that transferred annually approximately $13,000 from Winnsboro to Blythewood for use of Blythewood right-of-ways necessary for Winnsboro to access, service and maintain water infrastructure. While Blythewood reads the contract as effective until 2016, Winnsboro maintains that the agreement is binding until 2020. According to the contract, disputes over the agreement are subject to arbitration in accordance with S.C. law. It will now be up to Blythewood to appoint an arbitrator, Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said, and the two arbitrators would appoint a third before negotiations could begin.

John Fantry, Winnsboro’s legal counsel on water and utility issues, said in April that a termination of the agreement would not necessarily prevent Winnsboro from selling water to customers in the areas surrounding the Blythewood town limits, but would require Winnsboro to bypass the Blythewood right-of-ways. But a termination of the agreement would, however, require Winnsboro to sell the infrastructure lying within the town limits to Blythewood at fair market value, according to the contract.

While Blythewood may not be in a financial position to purchase Winnsboro’s infrastructure, sources told The Voice last week that the City of Columbia may be interested in making the purchase and operating the system on Blythewood’s behalf. After last week’s special meeting, Fantry said such a proxy purchase was acceptable under state law.

Currently, Winnsboro has approximately 750 taps in and around Blythewood. Winnsboro collects 1.5 percent on each water bill and transfers that money to Blythewood annually.