Ridgeway denies reversing position on connecting to line

WINNSBORO – During the Monday, May 12, council meeting, Councilman Clarence Gilbert criticized Council Chairman Bell for not briefing all council members on an important multi-person conference call meeting that Bell and County Administrator Malik Whitaker participated in regarding the $20 million grant application for the construction of a wastewater connector line that Ridgeway town government was being encouraged to connect to.

“I didn’t know anything about it until I read about it in The Voice,” Gilbert said. “What’s going on? What are you trying to hide?”

Bell dismissed Gilbert’s accusation as he turned to address Town Administrator Malik Whitaker.

“Mr. Whitaker, do you know anything about a meeting?” Bell asked and laughed.

Whitaker, who turned his microphone off before speaking, was picked up on The Voice’s recorder denying any knowledge of such a meeting.

“We did not have a meeting,” Whitaker insisted. “That’s fake news,” he said.

Councilman Mikel Trapp laughed, prompting Gilbert to ask him to “grow up.” Trapp’s answer was not audible on the video or the recording.

But others included in the Tuesday, Sept. 6 conference call confirmed there were 10 people, including at least two attorneys who represented the county, the Joint Water Authority, and the towns of Ridgeway and Winnsboro. The Voice was told that both Whitaker and Bell participated in the call.

Others participating, according to sources, were: C.D. Rhodes (attorney for the Joint Water & Sewer Authority), Winnsboro Mayor John McMeekin, Bill Bingham (American Engineering Services), Walt Cartin (Parker Poe attorney representing the county), Winnsboro Town Administrator Jason Taylor, Winnsboro Assistant Town Administrator Chris Clauson, Winnsboro Town Attorney Scott Elliot and Ridgeway’s Mayor Heath Cookendorfer.

According to sources participating in the call, it was a scheduled call for the purpose of getting Ridgeway on board to sign a statement agreeing to pursue the design and construction of a pump station and sewer transmission line to facilitate the connection of Ridgeway’s waterworks and sewer system to the Town of Winnsboro’s proposed wastewater treatment plant and later to the Joint Water Authority’s plant when it is completed.

“That’s a very expensive process for Ridgeway. One that we can’t afford. We were as cooperative as we could be and 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.  “We have not agreed at any time to pay any costs associated with the project.”

On Thursday evening, Sept. 8, during their regularly scheduled Town Council meeting, Ridgeway council members convened into executive session to discuss the Town’s position in regard to the project

Following the meeting, Cookendorfer informed all media in attendance that council members had been advised by a representative of the Joint Water & Sewer Authority to submit what it would take for the Town to agree to connect to the line and support the $20 million grant needed to construct the line project.

Sources involved in applying for the $20 million SCIIP grant needed to construct the Ridgeway and Commerce Center lines and other appurtenances, say Ridgeway would need to sign on to connect in order for the grant application guidelines to be met.

The next day, Sept. 9, Cookendorfer submitted a letter to the Joint Water and Sewer Authority’s attorney, outlining the costs that Ridgeway could incur by signing on to the project.

“The Town [of Ridgeway’s] support is contingent on the following provisions,” Cookendorfer wrote. Those provisions included the Town’s request that Fairfield County cover the following costs that Ridgeway could incur if it connects to the project:

  • a $1 million bond to cover any impact/capacity or connection fees required by the Town of Winnsboro’s Wastewater Treatment plant or the Joint System plant
  • any additional cost to pump or transmit wastewater into the receiving system for the next 30 years, based on the Ridgeway Systems’ current wastewater rates
  • the full cost of decommissioning the Ridgeway system which, according to Cookendorfer, could cost as much as $250,000.

In a response to Cookendorfer’s letter, the Joint Water and Sewer System representative rejected the proposal and wrote that he was “personally offended that the Town would completely reverse its position on this project and this grant from the position that was stated in open session at [Ridgeway’s] June council meeting without engaging at any level in any sort of discussion.”

“Ridgeway council has not reversed its position,” Cookendorfer told The Voice after receiving the letter. “We never agreed to connect to the project if there are any costs associated with the building, maintenance or use of the proposed Ridgeway line,” Cookendorfer said.

With the delay of the completion of the Joint Water and Sewer Authority’s treatment plant as long, perhaps, as five years away, Bell had proposed the connector line earlier this year as a means to bring sewer service to new industry in the Commerce Center within two years.

County Deputy Administrator Synithia Williams announced that the cost to complete the two lines, a new substation and other necessary appurtenances would cost as much as $20 million. Because of the grant guidelines, the Joint Water and Sewer Authority and the Town of Ridgeway would each need to apply for separate $10 million grants. 

Without Ridgeway agreeing to connect or apply for a grant, the Joint Water and Sewer Authority has applied for both $10 million grants which sources involved in the process say may not meet the grant application guidelines that stipulate a government can only apply for one grant.

The announcement of whether either or both of the grants are awarded will not be determined until after the first of the year.

Note: Sources who participated in the Sept. 6 conference call meeting regarding the Ridgeway sewer line connection confirmed to The Voice that Council Chairman Moses Bell was on the conference call. Mr. Bell emailed The Voice this evening to again say that he did not participate in the call.


  1. Jeff Schaffer says

    typical behavior of the Council Lead by Mr. (Ring your) Bell and Mr. Trapp (and snicker) these two guys are in Elementary school. acting like Little boys that have never grown up.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]