Blythewood Council wants water contract re-do

BLYTHEWOOD – The town of Blythewood is looking to open discussions with the Town of Winnsboro in the coming new year as it prepares to renegotiate the town’s water supply contract.

During the Nov. 26 town council meeting, Mayor J. Michael Ross said that the town’s contract with Winnsboro as its fresh water supplier will expire in 2020, and that he hopes that in the next year the town can come to new terms in its usage agreement.

“We believe that we are probably one of their largest users. We would like to even suggest that we might use as much or more water than the town of Winnsboro, and we hope that we can use that position in the negotiations,” Ross stated.

In addition to rate concerns, Ross said that Blythewood has compiled an agenda list of approximately ten other items residents have brought to the attention of Blythewood’s administration that will be brought to Winnsboro.

“We have gotten what seems like constant complaints about bills, the billing system and even the smell of the water,” Ross stated.

While he said Winnsboro has attempted to resolve some of the issues, including flushing the water system on several different occasions, he said he has “some real concerns” regarding the issues.

Resident Dennis Drozdak, who opened the discussion Monday night during the citizen remarks forum of the meeting, told the council that he had conducted an at-home test of his water that same day.

“It registered at .83 particles. That’s pretty high and that might be the reason why the water smells,” Drozdak stated.

Drozdak also said that he once received a water bill of over $600, and that he believed the town of Winnsboro owed answers to the Blythewood community.

While Drozdak alleged that, over the summer, the town of Blythewood was marked the third highest in the state for water usage rates, that ranking is not reflected on the state’s Rural Infrastructure Authority website.

Drozkak also said that Winnsboro’s water rate recently increased by over nine percent.

Winnsboro Town Clerk Lorraine Abell told The Voice, however, that the increase came last July and was levied by the City of Columbia for water it sells to Winnsboro, and that Winnsboro only passed along Columbia’s rate increase.

Blythewood’s contract with Winnsboro began in 2000, when the Town of Blythewood needed water and the City of Columbia showed no interest in supplying water service requested by the Town. Until that time, the water source for Blythewood residents and businesses had been from private wells.

“The water was bad at both Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School and Blythewood Academy, plus we needed fire hydrants and improved fire ratings,” Jim McLean, a town councilman at the time, told The Voice. “Plus, we needed water for economic development.”

“Winnsboro stepped in and came to Blythewood’s rescue,” McLean said. “It was because of Winnsboro supplying us water when no one else would, that we were able to get fire hydrants and significantly better fire ratings for homeowners, better water for our schools and considerable economic development leverage for the town. We were able to bring in three hotels as well as residential development including Cobblestone Park.”

McLean recounted how Winnsboro’s then-mayor, Quay McMaster, sat down with Blythewood’s then-mayor, Roland Ballow, and the two worked out the contract that is still in effect.

“They probably should have had the advice of an attorney,” McLean quipped, “but they were just trying to do the right thing for Blythewood, to supply us with a much needed water source at a time when the Town had little money to work with.”

Winnsboro supplied the water lines to the Town and Fairfield Electric Cooperative and SCE&G covered most of the cost of the water tower.

Today, the hotels and restaurants in the town bring in more than $400,000 a year in accommodation and hospitality revenue for Blythewood.

While Winnsboro’s reservoirs have been so low at times in the last few years that it has had to purchase water from Columbia, Winnsboro water reserves are expected to increase dramatically when a new direct line into the Broad River becomes operational early next year, according to Town of Winnsboro officials.

Ross said that he will keep the public updated as the town navigates the negotiations of a new agreement with the town of Winnsboro.

“We don’t want the water to smell bad or taste bad, and we want it at a fair and reasonable price,” Ross stated.