Bell says wastewater treatment plant will only cost $18.5M

WINNSBORO – During the Oct. 10, 2022, Fairfield County Council meeting, Chairman Moses Bell declared that someone was spreading exaggerated claims about the cost of the county’s proposed wastewater treatment plant.

Bell pushed back on estimates that the plant, which he proposes to take to the Broad River, will cost as much as $75 million. He then disclosed new cost information he said was received by the county a day earlier.

“We got word yesterday that the plant will only cost $18.5 million,” he said. He called on the public to spread that information.

“Where [$75 million] comes from, I don’t know because that’s not the case,” Bell insisted. “It is still believed we can build the wastewater treatment plant for the amount of money that was given to us by Dominion Energy, so we’re working to make sure we get these things done.”

On Tuesday, he told The Voice that the entire project will cost less than $42 million

The $18.5 million price tag, Bell confirmed later, is for only the plant and does not cover the cost of the entire system.

The county officials will share little information about the project plans, but officials familiar with the county’s wastewater treatment plant proposal, but who asked not to be identified because of their close association to the county, insist that, even with a low-cost $18.5 million plant, the additional cost and installation of 21 miles of 24” pipe ($42.5 million at $380 per foot) and two pump stations at approximately $3 million would total about $64 million. The acquisition and purchase of land, 21 miles of right-of-way, surveying and legal assistance needed for the project could push the total cost of the project into the $70 million range. Additionally, supply chain issues could possibly delay construction leading to increased costs.

Costs may rise

Other counties and cities have found their costs rising exponentially from planning to construction. One government official said those prices can even rise during construction.

In 2017, the utility consulting firm UTEC told then-Mayor Gavin Brown and the Board of Aldermen in Waynesville, NC that it would cost $19 million to build a traditional activated sludge wastewater treatment plant that would treat four million gallons of sewage a day. That plant’s treatment process is similar to the oxidation ditch treatment plant Fairfield proposes that will treat two million gallons of sewage a day with potential to treat six million gallons a day.

As the Waynesville Town officials planned the project over the next few years, they obtained a $19 million loan to cover the cost of the plant. But the cost continued to rise. By January, 2022, the cost for the plant had climbed to $28.4 million. The Town issued bids and six months later, in June of that year, the lowest bid was $29.6 million.

Waynesville officials accepted the bid, realizing it would only go higher if they delay for a re-bid.

While the Dominion settlement provided $46 million for the county’s wastewater treatment project, that number now stands at about $41 million.

That amount would have been more than enough to construct a higher level membrane treatment plant, pay for land, right-of-way easements, legal assistance, surveys and lines if the plant had discharged into Cedar Creek as initially planned according to documents provided by the previous county administration.

Because the line is so long, Bell confirmed it will require at least one and maybe two pump stations to keep the effluent flowing.

“The line won’t function as a pipeline because of low flow over such a long distance. Instead, it will function as a 21-mile sewage storage tank,” an area wastewater engineer said. “Operating a sewer storage tank is different than a flowing line. Effluent in that length of line will have to be flushed constantly by the pump stations to prevent it from becoming so septic that it could eat holes in the line.”

Delays also cost money.

Conservative estimates by some familiar with the project, place the completion of the Fairfield wastewater project at least 4 – 5 years away if it goes to the Broad.

According to Winnsboro Mayor John McMeekin, it took the Town of Winnsboro five to six years to obtain right-of-way easements for a 12-mile water line to the Broad several years ago.

It’s a lengthy process that gives inflation the chance to increase prices. 

Asked by Councilman Douglas Pauley at the Oct. 10 council meeting if the county had determined a site for the plant on the Broad, County Administrator Malik Whitaker said no site had yet been selected.

Had the county continued the wastewater treatment project already initiated by the previous administration to discharge into Cedar Creek, Taylor said it would have been completed in about six more months. Taking the project to the Broad is estimated, at this point, to take five years.

Both the residents of Cedar Creek and county officials hope the Broad River discharge destination works out to be affordable and that total costs of the entire project come in under $42 million. 

If the costs are in the $70 million range, the county may have to come up with at least another $30 million to make the Broad happen.

Bell said during a May 12, 2022, town hall meeting that the state had agreed to pay the difference for any costs over $46 million, but a letter from the SC Department of Commerce to Bell dated May 21, 2022, says otherwise.

 According to the letter, obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request, Commerce did not agree to fund such overage and doesn’t plan to.

The question of cost and whether the County can fund going to the Broad will be clarified on Nov. 1 when the bids are opened.


  1. Darrell Barnes says

    You are leaving out the possible 10 million dollar grant county will most likely receive.
    Would have been 20 million in grants if Winnsboro and Ridgeway hadn’t double crossed
    the county. The 6 months window to build the MBR plant is just not anywhere near the truth. Pls. quote what minutes this came from. Do you proofread and write Pauley’s statements like you do for Gilbert ?
    How you going to build anything on 6 months when you hadn’t gotten a 208 plan approved by MCOG and Richland County Council also voted unanimously not to support approval of plant? Then DEHEC had to approve that had to be overcome.

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