Fairfield County hits roadblock on $20M grant

WINNSBORO – The recent agreement reached between the Fairfield County Council and the Town of Winnsboro that was hailed by County Council Chairman Moses Bell as transformational for the county and one of his most rewarding experiences since becoming chair, may be in trouble.

In the agreement, the Town and County agreed to undertake construction of an interconnected sewer line designed to fast track wastewater for the Commerce Center (as well as provide sewer service for Ridgeway) from the Town of Winnsboro’s wastewater plant for treatment until the Joint Water Authority’s proposed new wastewater treatment plant is completed somewhere around 2027, at which time the interconnector line would be connected directly to it for treatment.

To accomplish this, the county needs to come up with at least $20 million to construct the interconnector line. The county hired Bill Bingham with American Engineering for $1.9 million to do design and engineering services for the line and to complete the application for the Joint Authority for the $20 million SC Infrastructure Investment Program (SCIIP) grant to pay for the interconnector line.

That’s where things start to go south for the interconnector line.

The SCIIP grant is designed for regional projects. To qualify as a regional project, the construction of the line must include two wastewater treatment plants – Winnboro’s and Ridgeway’s – not just Winnsboro’s.

While Ridgeway Town Council passed a resolution on June 9, 2022 to join the County and the Town of Winnsboro on the Joint Water and Sewer Authority, and passed another resolution on Aug. 11, 2022 to appoint two representatives to the Authority’s board, Ridgeway did not agree to hook on to the interconnector or send its effluent to the Town of Winnsboro’s treatment plant – two actions necessary, sources say, for the County to qualify the interconnector as a regional project eligible for the $20 million grant.

“We told the County early on that they are welcome to lay the line to Ridgeway, but that Ridgeway Town Council would not at this time agree to connect its sewer customers to the line or to send its effluent to Winnsboro,” Mayor Heath Cookendorfer told The Voice. He said Ridgeway council has not agreed to pay any costs associated with the building, maintenance or use of the line.

Nevertheless, on Aug. 29, Cookendorfer received a resolution from the county that he was asked to sign. According to the resolution, his signature would obligate Ridgeway to connect to the line.

Section (3) of that resolution states: “Upon due investigation and consideration, the [Ridgeway] Town Council has determined that it is in the best interest of Town, its citizens, and the customers of the [Town’s] System to both join the Joint System and pursue the design and construction of a pump station, sewer transmission line, and other necessary appurtenances to facilitate the connection of the [Town of Ridgeway’s] System to the Plant Project (the Line Project.)”

Cookendorfer said he was contacted by county officials on Monday urging him to sign the resolution as the deadline for submitting the application for the $20 million grant is near.

“I repeated to them that Ridgeway never agreed to connect to the line and that I was not authorized to sign the resolution,” Cookendorfer said. He told The Voice that the issue will be on the agenda for executive session at the Town’s regular monthly meeting, Thursday, Sept. 8.

“As far as I’m concerned, Ridgeway and its water customers simply cannot afford to do this,” Cookendorfer said. “Signing this resolution would obligate us to connect to the line at some point and that would force us to decommission our own sewer plant.

“I understand that decommissioning our plant could cost Ridgeway as much as $250,000. Then we would have to pay Winnsboro an impact fee of $1 million just to connect to their plant. In switching to Winnsboro, we would lose the monthly revenue that we now receive from our water customers, plus our customers would have to start paying much higher rates because Winnsboro uses a much higher level of water treatment than Ridgeway has to use.” Cookendorfer said. “Our customer’s rates would double or more.”

Another issue is that the Town of Winnsboro has not agreed to take Ridgeway’s effluent.

“There is no agreement for Winnsboro to take Ridgeway’s effluent,” Taylor told The Voice in June.

“That would be an enormous cost for Winnsboro to take Ridgeway’s wastewater, and we have not agreed to take effluent unless we are paid to take it,” Taylor said. “Taking 150-160 thousand gallons of Ridgeway’s effluent would knock us out of having 500,000 gallons of capacity available for industrial users. We can’t do that.”

The Voice contacted Bell to find out how the County intends to proceed if Ridgeway does not sign on to connect to the interconnector.

“We don’t know,” Bell said. “The Winnsboro connector line is the main part of the project for the county and everything else. However, Ridgeway, as I understand, is in support of trying to get the line further on into Ridgeway as a means to be able to, once the wastewater treatment plant comes on line, connect to the Joint System wastewater treatment plant.”

Bell said he does not believe that Ridgeway has to agree to connect to the line for the county to be eligible for the SCIIP grant.

“At this point, we don’t have any doubts about our grant,” Bell said.

The decision to award the grant, however, is left up to the S.C. Department of Commerce who administers the grant awards. That decision will be announced in early January, 2023.

The County’s grant application must be submitted by Sept. 12, and a source knowledgeable of the grant’s requirements says the agreements regarding ownership, costs, operation, maintenance, connections and other permissions from the Towns of Winnsboro and Ridgeway must be finalized before the grant application is signed and submitted.

Comments

  1. jeff schaffer says

    Is there ever a time when Bell will not take the opportunity to RING his own BELL?
    or maybe I should say is there any time when his interest is focused on the entire community rather than his home base?
    Jeff Schaffer
    Lake Monticello

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