Fort Mill Times

There’s an agreement for Carolina Water Service in Lake Wylie. But will they sign it?

York County Council took a step toward an agreement with Carolina Water Service for water and sewer in the Lake Wylie area. But there aren’t any signatures on the dotted line yet.

“We approved first reading because of a time constraint,” York County Councilwoman Allison Love said Thursday afternoon. “We discussed further in executive session and will continue that discussion tomorrow in executive session.”

The county passed the first of three readings needed to issue a franchise agreement with the utility. It’s the only item on a special called meeting agenda Friday afternoon. The agreement still could change considerably by the time it’s finalized – if it is.

“I have asked some specific questions and should have the answers to those tomorrow,” Love said.

If an agreement gets to third reading early next month, it will include a public hearing.

As written, the ordinance allows for a non-exclusive franchise agreement with Carolina Water Service. The agreement only impacts the Lake Wylie area, along S.C. 49 generally north of the Five Points intersection of S.C. 49, 274, 55 and Lake Wylie Road. It doesn’t impact Carolina Water customers outside Lake Wylie, such as those in Fort Mill’s Foxwood community.

The agreement runs for 25 years. The county can renew or extend that term if the utility applies. Carolina Water wouldn’t be able to change, assign or transfer its franchise without county consent. The county can buy the utility system while the agreement is pending, or at the end of it, at a “fair and reasonable price” according to eminent domain laws.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission would continue to determine rate change cases, as it is now with Carolina Water proposing increases for its system statewide. If Carolina Water decides to sell any part of its system in York County, the county would have first right to buy it at the offer price.

The county can reduce the size of the territory or revoke the franchise is the utility doesn’t comply with terms of the agreement, or if the county determines “that such action would be in the best interest of the health, safety or public welfare” of county citizens. In such a scenario, the county could then serve customers in the impacted area with water and sewer.

A new franchise agreement would replace one from Jan. 28, 1992. That agreement came due in early 2017. The county and utility since signed two six-month extensions allowing time to negotiate. The current extension runs through Feb. 17.

Lake Wylie residents had hoped prior to the the contracts running out that the county would use the opportunity to purchase the utility and provide service – or find something other than Carolina Water to do it. Residents continued those statements as Carolina Water asked for rate increases late last year. The public service commission will hear testimony on that case through the spring.

York County isn’t the only public body looking for change. On Jan. 16, Carolina Water announced it transferred ownership of its I-20 wastewater treatment plant to the town of Lexington. The move comes after the town condemned the system. Now an appraisal will be used by a court to determine fair market value for the town to take over for Carolina Water.

“We will provide the most current and accurate appraisal possible to the town which will assure that the residents of Lexington understand the cost and potential use of their tax dollars,” said Matthew Klein, interim president for Carolina Water. “And it will do so while ensuring that Carolina Water Service is compensated appropriately for the system.”

Condemning the system last fall was a major step.

“While it sounds ominous, the condemnation process actually allows the town to take over the system while the court system decides on fair market value for it,” Klein said. “We want to make sure this process is done as smoothly and quickly as possible and are pleased that the town has agreed to this exchange.”

Check back Friday for more.