State awards Fairfield $500K for water line

WINNSBORO – In its quest to attract and expand industry, Fairfield County Council gave final approval last May to purchase 66.67 acres from Weyerhaeuser at $6,000 an acre, or about $400,000.

Earlier this week the S.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) awarded the county $500,000 to assist with the costs of extending a water line to that Weyerhaeuser property.

“The grant was part of a larger grant package for 28 projects across the state, totaling more than $13 million, which the state says will help keep critical water, sewer and storm water infrastructure strong as communities focus on protecting public health and preparing for economic opportunities,” Fairfield County Economic Director Ty Davenport said on Tuesday.

“There is not a single empty industrial building left in the county. It’s been a great four years.”

Ty Davenport
Director of Fairfield County Economic Development

“With the recent sale of our spec building, we are completely out of building inventory,” Davenport said.  “There is not a single empty industrial building left in the county.  It’s been a great four years. As a result, we are looking for additional locations to develop for job creating companies. The Weyerhaeuser property is relatively flat and easily developed.  Grading cost has been a deal breaker in the past, therefore we are critically analyzing the overall development cost and not just the land price.  Water and sewer are basic components to development and this water line is a great first step to creating a very attractive location for tax paying investments and job creators.”

The 66.67 acre parcel is located off Peach Road about four miles from I-77. It’s a distinctly different tract than the one designated for a wastewater treatment plant at the intersection of Peach and Cook Roads.

Davenport said the Weyerhaeuser purchase agreement includes an option for Fairfield County to buy up to 500 acres.

“We can purchase the rest in the future as we need it,” he said

Virtually no county money was used to buy the land. The bulk of the money ($300,000) came from a state Department of Commerce grant.

Additional funding came from Fairfield Electric Cooperative. The property falls within the Co-op’s territory.

“Partnering with Fairfield Electric Co-op has additional benefits in that it opens doors to additional grant and funding opportunities,” County Administrator Jason Taylor said.

The property’s specific location wasn’t disclosed until third reading of the purchase agreement on May 26, prompting a question from Councilman Douglas Pauley. Pauley said several constituents had reached out to him, asking why there wasn’t greater transparency any sooner.

Davenport said secrecy is often needed in land deals to prevent another entity from buying the property out from under the county, costing taxpayers more in the long run.

“If a speculative land buyer were to come in and put it under contract or buy it out from under us, we would lose the opportunity,” Davenport said. “Somebody could offer Weyerhaeuser more money than us, knowing that it was a good site, and then turn around and sell it back to us for more than they paid for it.”

Something similar occurred in another economic development project, said Council Chairman Neil Robinson.

Robinson said that because a council member leaked information about a planned county land purchase associated with a proposed wastewater treatment plant, the property’s price was driven up to $1.8 million.

“The land purchase,” Robinson recalled, “wouldn’t have been $1.8 million if a council member hadn’t gone out and broadcast that information,” Robinson said. “It would’ve been far less than $1.8 million. It was a must that we get it. We would have been dead in the water without it.”

As to which industries are targeted for the Weyerhaeuser tract, they haven’t been specifically decided at this point.

Davenport said he anticipates the site is suitable for advanced manufacturing, which lends itself to greater job creation. A targeted industry study is currently underway, which should help identify which industries.

“We’re going to do it in a first class manner. We’re going to be attracting bigger and higher end companies,” Davenport said.

Barbara Ball contributed to this story.