Water woes heat up politics in Batesburg-Leesville - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Water woes heat up politics in Batesburg-Leesville

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BATESBURG-LEESVILLE, SC (WIS) - Batesburg-Leesville voters are less than two weeks from deciding a mayor's race. The major issue involves a water plan -- a plan that now includes an ethics investigation.

Batesburg-Leesville leaders say their well is running dry. Officials say the town plays a dangerous gamble each year when summer droughts dry up the town's water reservoir.
Mayor Jim Wizowaty says he's got a plan to fix that.

"We want a surface water source and we want a big one," he said.

Wizowaty wants the town to sign a contract with Saluda County to create a regional water system using water from Lake Murray. That means building a plant on the Saluda County side of the lake and running water lines back to Batesburg. The price tag is $17 million.

"It encompasses our area that we can't serve right now, so we'll do a much better job of servicing Lexington County and Saluda County with this plan," Wizowaty said.

"The mayor's a Chicago-style politician, he wants to take a big risk," responded mayoral candidate Councilman Steve Cain. "He's doubled down on this project and it costs too much for our community."

Cain says his plan would cost $7 million. It would rebuild the town's current water plant and would pull water from the Edisto river along Interstate 20. 
"The interstate is the corridor where development is happening all over South Carolina," said Jorge Jimenez, whose engineering firm designs water plants.

Cain asked Jimenez to assess the town's water issues last week. Jimenez says the town's best bet for development is toward the interstate, and the town's size and the price tag on the mayor's plan just doesn't add up.

"A town as small as we have here should not be looking at the Lexus, they should be looking at the Chevrolets," said  Jimenez.

"Out of that $17 million, we're only borrowing $13.9 million, the government is giving us 3.3 million in grants, so it's a win-win for all of us," counters Wizowaty.
Another twist to this race is an ethics investigation. Councilman Cain accused the mayor of trying to use the water deal to line his own pockets. In an order released last week, the ethics commission says it found no evidence of that.
Cain says any water plan should stay in town. The mayor says the voters will decide that issue in the mayoral election set for November 3.

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