Water Talks Held in Secret

Closed Session May Have Violated State Law

WINNSBORO – Testing the limits of the executive session provision of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Town Council Monday night hid behind closed doors to discuss their water commitments with developers of a pair of Blythewood subdivisions.

The item was not on Monday’s agenda as an executive session discussion, but instead was listed as a public presentation by Bucky Drake, developer of the Red Gate and Cambridge Point subdivisions. Council, on the suggestion of and advice from the Town’s utilities attorney, John Fantry, amended the agenda when the presentation came up, moving it into secret session.

Fantry made the suggestion, “for pertinent elements of discussion tonight that we are going to be dealing with – water deeds, time table for draw down, possible capacity letters, timing for those,” he said, and “so that none of the architectural design and developments . . . that are not yet ready for the public would be released.”

When Mayor Roger Gaddy asked Fantry if state law allowed for the discussion to be held out of view of the public, Fantry said, “It would go under the same classification as we have (a) contractual nature.”

“I would note under the FOIA there’s an exclusion for economic development,” Fantry added, “and the commercial development and resident development that’s being proposed tonight would fall into that category also.”

The FOIA does contain an exemption for contract negotiations; however, defining a water commitment as a “contract” stretches the definition beyond what is reasonable. Water commitments have consistently been discussed in open session by Town Council.

The exemption for economic development is quite specific, and involves a government attempting to attract industry – not negotiate water agreements with real estate developers. Moreover, any perceived “economic development” associated with Red Gate or Cambridge Point would be on the behalf of the developers – not the Town of Winnsboro.

Nevertheless, Councilman Clyde Sanders made the motion and Stan Klaus offered the second to accept Fantry’s train of thought. Council voted unanimously to hold the Red Gate/Cambridge Point water talks in an illegal secret session.

Winnsboro already has a commitment of water for 100 lots at Red Gate. However, sources said, that is not the property developers want to build on first. Instead, developers are looking to break ground on Cambridge Point on Boney Road by next summer. That subdivision could need between 89 and 100 taps, for which developers would need a willingness to serve letter from the Town. A commercial aspect to Cambridge Point, which may require even more taps, is still slated as tentative.

Red Gate, sources said, is running at least a year behind Cambridge Point, and in addition to the already approved 100 taps may need 240 more if developers opt for an apartment complex in the subdivision.

By then, Winnsboro’s Broad River water line is expected to be complete, bringing an estimated 1 million gallons a day into the Town’s reservoir. Last month, Winnsboro was approved for a $14 million loan from the S.C. State Revolving Fund, at 1.88 percent interest, to finance the project.

N. Firetower Road

Council in open session Monday night accepted a bid from Site Concepts, Inc., of Lugoff, to construct a water line from North Firetower Road to Blythewood Road to bring additional water to the Fairfield Commerce Park.

Site submitted the low bid of $242,455 for the project, beating out an offer of $307,339 by LAD Corporation of West Columbia and TNT, Inc.’s bid of $347,096. Four other companies also bid on the project, with the highest figure – $617,270 – coming from Lake Murray Utility Co. Inc.

 

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