HANALEI — One day after the state identified Hanalei as one of 14 priority areas where cesspool upgrades are critically needed to protect public health, the Department of Health has withdrawn a program to help residents in the area.
In an email sent Wednesday to Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, executive director of Hanalei Watershed Hui, DOH struck down the Hanalei cesspool swap contract.
The contract provided money from DOH to the Hui to help pay for the replacement of 75 cesspools in Hanalei, between Waioli and Hanalei Rivers, by covering half the cost — up to $15,000 — for a swap to a septic or an advanced treatment unit.
There are about 270 cesspools in the Hanalei area.
“Unfortunately, we will be canceling the cesspool swap contract,” Michael Burke, program specialist with the Clean Water Branch of the DOH wrote in the email.
He continued: “We understand that it’s been a challenge to find suitable candidates for cesspool upgrades. However, Hanalei Watershed Hui committed to 15 upgrades and has yet to demonstrate that five property owners are willing to participate.”
Ka’aumoana knew the funding was in peril. On Tuesday, she sent a draft of a DOH letter that the Hui was preparing to send to prioritized property owners in Hanalei.
“Available funding should be seriously considered by Hanalei property owners at this time as the full cost of the upgrade may be incurred in the future,” the letter says.
When they made the deal, DOH told Ka’aumoana she had until the end of November to get five people to sign onto the program for it to continue. As of Wednesday, she had four letters of intent to replace the systems.
But that wasn’t enough.
“Community participation in the current Hanalei cesspool swap program has been disappointing, and interest by homeowners in using the program has been significantly lower than expected,” said Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for DOH. “If the federal funding for the program is not expended it must be returned.”
Though funding has waned for cesspool replacement in Hanalei, Ka’aumoana said the Hanalei Watershed Hui expects the state to move toward regulations requiring replacement of cesspools, especially in locations where the waters are impacted.
“It is unlikely funding will be available to help defray costs in the future,” she said.
DOH’s Polluted Runoff Control Program has an open request for proposals that targets Hanalei, and the entity is hoping that interested applicants will submit proposals designed to improve water quality in Hanalei and throughout the state.
Currently, a set of wastewater system rules signed into law by Gov. David Ige in 2016 requires the replacement of all of the state’s roughly 88,000 cesspools by the year 2050.
The same law banned new cesspools statewide and provided a taxpayer credit of up to $10,000 for cesspools upgraded to a sewer or septic system during the next five years.
That only works if you itemize your taxes, and to date about 50 taxpayers have used the program.
As far as Hanalei is concerned, DOH hopes to see the community take the initiative for cesspool replacement.