Can Winnsboro’s 10M gallons of water per day keep Blythewood contract?

BLYTHEWOOD – Mayor J. Michael Ross took the opportunity at council’s annual retreat on Saturday to call for public comment on the town’s 20-year water agreement with the Town of Winnsboro. The contract ends in July of 2020.

“I would recommend that our next agreement not last for 20 years,” Ross said before asking town attorney Jim Meggs to weigh in on the issue.

“Several years ago, council gave Winnsboro notice of termination [of the water agreement],” Meggs said. “Something different is going to have to be developed between now and July of 2020. A new plan for how we relate to Winnsboro or Columbia with regard to potable water supply and storage  is important and emerging – like tomorrow. It’s an issue for the town and council.”

Blythewood council signed that notice of termination in April of 2014, effective July of 2016, but the agreement never came to fruition since it doesn’t end until 2020.

The issue in 2014 was two-fold. A severe state-wide drought two years earlier had drained Winnsboro’s reservoirs until there was not enough water to meet Blythewood’s needs. As a result, Winnsboro Town Manager Don Wood signed an agreement with the City of Columbia to temporarily supplement the Blythewood area’s water supply.

In addition, Ross said at that time that Blythewood had gotten wind that a private company had offered to purchase the Blythewood arm of the water system from Winnsboro. While Winnsboro council members said they never entertained such an offer, it set off a wave of panic within the Blythewood Town Council, prompting Blythewood to light a fuse that has yet to be extinguished.

The resolution came as a shock to Winnsboro. Council members said it was passed without any warning. Ross told The Voice shortly afterwards that Blythewood feared that they could potentially be at the mercy of private industry and its water rates. Termination of the agreement, however, automatically triggers the sale of the system at fair market value, and it was at Blythewood’s behest that Columbia made a $1.4 million offer on Nov. 19, 2014 to purchase Blythewood’s system from Winnsboro.

But the water contract also mandates arbitration in the event of a dispute between the two parties, and Winnsboro hired a mediator to make their case. Blythewood, however, did not, and the deadline to do so passed.

Winnsboro, meanwhile, initiated steps in Sept., 2014 to construct a $12 – $13 million pipeline that would allow the town to draw as much as 10 million gallons of water per day from the Broad River.  Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy said the Broad River project would make all of Blythewood’s concerns disappear, rendering Blythewood’s move to wriggle out of the agreement ironic.

The water project has recently been completed and, according to Winnsboro water officials, is in the final phases of testing and certification.

“The pumps will supply 8 million gallons per day,” Gas, Water and Sewer Director Trip Peake said, “but the project has actually been permitted to provide 10 million gallons per day.” Much of that water is earmarked for the county’s future industrial development.

“Right now reservoirs are full and over flowing. And if the reservoirs drop in the summer, if there’s no rain, we will still have plenty of water” Peake said.

Now, however, both Ross and Meggs cite other problems with Winnsboro water.

“Since I’ve been here, a number of folks have come to complain to council about water service, rates, water quality, odor, you name it,” Meggs said. “Most of these complaints are related to the Winnsboro part of the system. Some large portions of the town are serviced by City of Columbia. “

Lenore Zedwoski told council there is also a problem with responsiveness.

“I’ve called Winnsboro water several times and received no response ,” Zedwoski said.

“We will start a discussion about where we should go from a legal perspective with Winnsboro and Columbia,” Meggs said. “Our most immediate concern is with Winnsboro and how we will proceed.”

“We will have an agreement eventually, or one that we propose and there’ll be give and take,” Ross said. “We think the agreement is written a little heavy for the Town of Winnsboro. We are a big customer, maybe bigger than the Town of Winnsboro,” he said.

Until 2000, Blythewood had no water service. It was that year that the Ballow administration sought to bring economic development to the town in the form of a hotel. To do that, the town needed water. Lots of water. Ballew turned to Columbia but was refused.

Winnsboro was the only water supplier who would agree to extend service to Blythewood. With cooperation from Fairfield Electric Cooperative, Blythewood got water that was followed by the eventual construction of three hotels that currently contribute close to $400,000 in hospitality tax revenue annually to the town’s coffers.

To contact the Town of Blythewood, call 754-0501. To contact the Town of Winnsboro, call 815-2948 or go to townofwinnsboro.com, click on ‘contact’ and then on ‘contact us.’ Fill out the email form with any questions and hit send.

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