Batesburg-Leesville, SC (Paul Kirby) – The Town Council of Batesburg-Leesville held a special called council meeting Monday night to hear from consultants they’d hired to study three possible alternatives to water supply. Any of these alternatives would act to better serve their future water needs; however, the Town leaders have to now decide which is the very best option for their customer base.
While the presentation was held in Executive Session, Town officials took measures to ensure the public was aware of the presentation by posting notice 3 days prior to the meeting. The notice was also posted to all Town social media outlets. Town Manager Ted Luckadoo even reported at the January Regular Council Meeting that this special meeting would be held January 27th.
This amount of notice is more than state law requires. That law dictates notices must be posted 24 hours in advance of the meeting. Mayor Lancer Shull expressed in a telephone interview Tuesday that this water project, and more specifically this study, is and has been very important to the community for years. Mayor Shull stated, “We needed to provide adequate notice that the study was complete, and that the Town was being presented with the findings due to the amount of interest from the community over the years.”
In 2013, the Town was served with a South Carolina DHEC Consent Order. That order stated the Town needed to find an additional source of raw water due to the growing demands on its water system. Since then, other means of providing additional sources of water have hit dead ends or have been deemed unachievable. Town leaders knew further study was needed on other options. In the fall of 2018, Town officials held a work session and decided on three alternative sources of long-term water they wanted to have studied. Council gave direction to Town Manager Ted Luckadoo to draft and release an RFQ or Request for Quotation for the study of the three options that were achievable. This had to be done to better understand each alternative option. The RFQ included the following options:
Purchase all the Town’s water from Saluda County Water & Sewer Authority.
Purchase all the Town’s water from Lexington County Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission.
Continue along the previous path of obtaining raw water from Lake Murray and making upgrades to the Town’s current water treatment facility.
In the spring of 2019, the Town evaluated responses from various engineering firms that responded to the RFQ. They ultimately selected Hazen and Sawyer to perform the Alternate Water Supply study.
Monday’s special meeting was opened as usual with an invocation, pledge, and approval of the agenda. Then, Council voted to go into executive session for “Presentation of Water Alternative Study Findings and Discussion Regarding Potential Contractual Arrangements with Stakeholders.” This is the exact language used in the posted and distributed agenda.
State Law allows for certain things to go on during executive session. The town used the premises of two exemptions to FOIA laws that allowed them to work in Monday’s executive session. They were:
S.C. Code Section 30-4-70 (a) (2), which states “Discussion of negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements”
S.C. Code Section 30-4-40(a)(1), which states that matters which may be exempt from FOIA that include, “Trade Secrets, which are defined as unpatented, secret, commercially valuable plans, appliances, formulas, or processes…. Trade secrets also include for those public bodies who mart (sell) services or products in competition with others, feasibility, planning, and marketing studies, and evaluations and other materials which contain references to potential customers, competitive information or evaluation.”
B-L Town Council elected to go into executive session because the consultants were presenting specific information regarding items that would be part of water contracts with each of the alternatives studied. Once Council voted to go into executive session, members of the public were asked to leave the Council Chambers. This allowed Council to utilize the chambers for the presentation.
Typically, Council heads to a separate room for executive session, but due to the amount of people with Council, consultants, town administration, and other essential personnel, the executive session room would have been too small. The consultants also were relying on audio-visual equipment during their presentations. That added even more to their space “crunch” that forced them out of the small room and into the regular council chambers.
Because the large group of professionals and all that equipment was remaining in the normal chambers, town officials had covered any windows that would have allowed visibility of the presentation screen. This is where sensitive information would be displayed. Mayor Lancer Shull stated, “We have multiple entities interested in serving our water demands and each have provided rates and options to try and supply us with water. It is to our advantage to keep these rates and offers by each entity confidential as we move forward with negotiations. It’s all about doing what’s best for our utility customers and keeping prices as low as possible.”
After the consultants made their presentations, the public was allowed to return to the council chambers. As required by law, they were informed that no action was taken during the executive session.
The council will now continue considering the consultant’s advice for a period and at some point, decide what’s best for the town. “I am confident in saying that Hazen and Sawyer did a wonderful job at meeting what we asked for in the RFQ requirements and presenting the information to town council,” Mayor Shull said. “I’m excited this step was taken and the process of negotiating terms of a contract with one of the selected alternatives is now underway. This is based on the offers and rates that were provided for during the study. Council is now well informed and the process of making a final decisionis moving ahead.”
At some point in the future, once Council makes a decision and a contract is written and signed, the public will be able to see all the details if they wish. Until then, the Batesburg-Leesville Town Council is working diligently to ensure the right steps are taken to better serve their water customers. The contract that is coming will finally put an end to the arduous journey of finding B-L’s long-term water solution to water supply.
The Lexington Ledger will continue to keep you informed about the selected alternative and what it means for the Town as soon as a contract is finalized.