Mayor Lays Out Winnsboro’s Water Plan

BLYTHEWOOD – With the relationship between Blythewood and Winnsboro somewhat strained since Blythewood Town Council gave Winnsboro its two-year notice to terminate their water franchise agreement last April, Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy during Council’s Dec. 22 meeting brought Blythewood up to speed on Winnsboro’s plans to secure additional water, while also explaining why Winnsboro turned down a $1.4 million offer to sell the Blythewood system to Columbia.

“By early 2017 we should have a water line from the Broad River to the water plant to help fulfill the needs of Blythewood, Fairfield County and Winnsboro long-term,” Gaddy said. Winnsboro rejected Columbia’s $1.4 million bid, Gaddy said, because, “for us to run this water line to the Broad River we’re going to have to float about a $10 million bond, and to do that northeast Richland County is important to us because it’s an area of potential growth. To be able to sell that bond to the investors it makes it more attractive for us to have that area.”

Gaddy has previously told The Voice that Columbia only made the offer to buy the Blythewood portion of the water system at the request of Blythewood, and during his Dec. 22 presentation Gaddy questioned why Columbia would want to alter the situation they have now. Winnsboro is currently committed to 1 million gallons a day from Columbia to feed into the Blythewood system, and at present is only using about one quarter of that capacity, Gaddy said.

“Why would Columbia want to buy it? Right now we’re paying a retail rate to Columbia,” Gaddy said on Dec. 22. “We’re not paying a discounted rate, not a commercial rate, not a wholesale rate. We’re paying the same rate someone pays whenever they buy their water for their house. All (Columbia) has to do is turn on the tap. Winnsboro provides all the maintenance, we do all the upgrades, we do all the upkeep, we make all the collections and we pay ya’ll the franchise fee.”

Blythewood Mayor J. Michael Ross said he was concerned with putting developers on hold; developers he said, who were ready to move on projects that could bring considerable economic development to Blythewood.

“I don’t know how we just sit here and say we’re just going to wait until you get that (Broad River line) done, in 2017 or 2018,” Ross said.

But Gaddy said that with the current 1 million gallons a day commitment from Columbia, Winnsboro could have between 350 and 500 taps available for developers. Winnsboro is looking for an additional 1 million gallons a day from Columbia, which Gaddy said could free up approximately 1,000 taps. Even then, Gaddy said, developers would have to phase in their projects.

“You’re not going to build it all at once,” Gaddy said. “You’re not going to sell it all at once. And we’re not going to sell all the taps at once. Tell us what you need from Winnsboro for the first year or two, or for the first 180 days. And what do you need after that? We’ll look at that and we’ll guarantee you what we can.”

Ross noted that Blythewood could easily have all its needs met by Columbia, and met at once.

“You understand, and I know you do because you’re a smart man,” Ross told Gaddy, “that we can start getting all the water we need from Columbia tomorrow.”

“I understand that,” Gaddy said, “but Columbia (is) not going to give it all to you until you need it.”

Gaddy added that Winnsboro’s agreement with Blythewood was not an exclusive one.

“The developers can go to Columbia and get (water),” Gaddy said. “They don’t want to go to Columbia and get it. They prefer to get it from Winnsboro.”

Gaddy also said that the dispute over the franchise agreement had to be resolved. In April, Blythewood passed a resolution to terminate the agreement under the impression that the 20-year contract expired in 2016. Winnsboro has maintained that the deal doesn’t expire until 2020.

“The contract was signed in 1996 by Blythewood; it was not signed by Winnsboro until the year 2000,” Gaddy said. “Blythewood never asked for any franchise fees until the year 2000, so I think they recognized probably that’s when it would start.”

Gaddy told Blythewood Town Council that, according to the contract, any disputes over the agreement must be settled by binding arbitration. Last summer, Winnsboro retained an arbitrator to make their case. The deadline for Blythewood to also hire an arbitrator came and went in September without them doing so.

“If ya’ll are still questioning when (the franchise agreement) expires we’re going to need ya’ll to hire an arbitrator and lets go to binding arbitration,” Gaddy told Blythewood’s Council, “which I think your council and our council thinks is a big waste of money, or we need a letter that just states you acquiesce.”

Last month, Gaddy told The Voice that Winnsboro wasn’t entirely happy with the franchise agreement as written and would be willing to consider renegotiating it. On Dec. 22, he relayed that same message to Blythewood.

“You think this franchise fee is flawed, as do we,” Gaddy said. “We would certainly like to work with ya’ll about redoing the franchise agreement (in a way) that we both agree is fair and equitable.”