Blythewood approves 20-year Winnsboro water contract

BLYTHEWOOD – After discussion that made clear it was the only option to supply water to the town of Blythewood, the Blythewood Town Council approved a new 20-year agreement with the Town of Winnsboro, which has provided water in Blythewood for the past 20 years.

In a 4-1 vote, the council agreed to another 20 years, under a very similar agreement with a few changes. Those changes include:

  • a limit on the rate that can be charged to Blythewood customers, which cannot exceed the most favorable rate charged to customers in unincorporated areas of Fairfield County
  • a requirement that Winnsboro read customer meters monthly in order to avoid elevated charges to customers that have resulted from past failure to do so
  • a requirement that Winnsboro pay Blythewood an annual franchise fee equal to 5 percent of gross water sales revenue (an increase from the previous 3 percent)

Mayor Bryan Franklin and council members Eddie Baughman, Donald Brock, and Larry Griffin voted in favor of renewing the agreement; Council Member Sloan Griffin voted against it.

In a meeting last month, the council members discussed the agreement at length. During that time, Sloan Griffin laid out complaints about Winnsboro’s customer service and sporadic meter-reading as reasons to look for an alternative – specifically the city of Columbia – to provide water to the town.

During this month’s meeting, town staff and town attorney Jim Meggs summarized the realities of the situation.

“It’s a matter of Columbia basically not wanting [to purchase] the infrastructure [from Winnsboro],” said Town Administrator Brian Cook. “There was a push many years ago to try and see if Columbia was interested… and even more recently, we kind of felt it out a little bit, and there wasn’t a whole lot of response in the sense of them wanting to take that on.”

Columbia has challenges of its own – including a major, federally required expenditure to upgrade its own wastewater infrastructure, Meggs said.

Meggs laid out the predicament Blythewood would be in if town leaders failed to sign the agreement with Winnsboro.

“The town would be required to buy Winnsboro’s water infrastructure – and then figure out where to buy water to distribute to the Blythewood,” Meggs said. “The critical question here is where is the money going to come from [to purchase the system], and where is the water going to come from to put in the pipes.

“Twenty years is a long time, but considering the magnitude of what we’re talking about here, it’s a 20-year planning process. If a future council of Blythewood decided to try and get into the water treatment and distribution business, that’s not something you do in two or three years; that’s a long-term proposition, and probably an impossible proposition unless technology reduces costs drastically,” Meggs said.

Back in the year 2000, Winnsboro’s willingness to provide water to Blythewood was a milestone for the town’s desire to grow.

When Blythewood wanted to bring in a hotel – which required public water – the town was unable to negotiate a deal with Columbia. Winnsboro agreed to extend service, ultimately providing the water infrastructure that has made possible Blythewood’s development over the last 20 years.

Six years ago, when a major drought threatened the water supply to Blythewood, Winnsboro forged an agreement with Columbia to supplement its water supply temporarily and ensure that Blythewood continued to have water to meet its needs.

For the long term, Winnsboro then embarked upon a $12 million pipeline project to draw water from the Broad River, ensuring the future water supply.

At the time of the drought and related political angst, Blythewood leaders sought to terminate the agreement – a move that would have required the town to buy its water infrastructure – but they never followed through.

As they moved forward with a new water agreement, Blythewood council members expressed hope that Winnsboro will resolve the billing issues that have been frustrating Blythewood residents.

Baughman stressed the importance of Winnsboro managing its meter-reading so that customers are charged timely and accurately for their water usage.

“It’s something that we worked into the agreement,” he said, “so I’m hoping once we agree on this, they’re going to take care of this issue.”