State proposing cesspool changes

LIHUE — The Kauai Board of Realtors and the Hawaii Association of Realtors are opposing revisions to wastewater regulations being proposed by the Department of Health.

A public meeting on cesspool, septic system and other wastewater related regulations is scheduled at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Kauai District Health Office, 3040 Umi Street. A second meeting to discuss the proposed revisions will be held at the same location from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday.

The Department of Health is seeking to expedite the transition from cesspool to septic or a new form of wastewater system on every property in the state of Hawaii.  

“The proposed rule changes adopt the same requirements that other states already use to upgrade existing cesspools,” said Sina Pruder, DOH Wastewater branch chief.

Proposed revisions would prohibit the installation of new cesspools and require sewer connections or upgrades to a septic system within 180 days after the sale of a property, business or residential. Businesses with large capacity cesspools were already required by EPA laws to upgrade in 2005.

According to the Board of Realtors, buyers and sellers would be adversely affected by this mandate due to cost and the financing repercussions.

The board called for a “common sense” approach to managing wastewater.

“It is easy to pass idealistic legislation without considering what you are doing to the individuals it is affecting,” a press release said. “There is no rational nexus between the point-of-sale requirement being proposed and a strict mandate to change the system except that you have a captive audience.”

Lee Morey, president of the Kauai Board of Realtors, said she encourages homeowners to read the proposed changes and comment to the DOH. She said homeowners should consider that a new septic system is costly and not easy to finance.

“If seller even had the ability to install a new wastewater system, a $15,000 to $25,000 cost in many cases could make the difference in breaking even on a sale or having a short sale,” according to a press release.

This year on Kauai, 156 homes have sold under $500,000 — 95 were on cesspools. 

The changes are necessary to protect the environment, Pruder said.

Cesspool designs vary, but most are deep holes where untreated wasted is allowed to leach out naturally. During high water incidents, the concern is that runoff from many cesspools will back up and cause pollution to the waterways.

According to the Department of Health, there are about 90,000 cesspools in the state, with nearly 14,000 on Kauai. 

Pruder estimates that these cesspools release as much as 23,700 pounds of nitrogen and nearly 6,000 pounds of phosphorus into the ground each day.

“This can degrade water quality, stimulate undesirable algae growth, and impact our coral reefs,” Pruder said.

Kauai Realtors said they have been aware of the wastewater issue for many years and have tried to do away with cesspools by requiring a change to wastewater systems with an upgrade to property and not issuing permits for cesspools.  But what DOH is proposing is too drastic, they said.

“We have to consider this is primarily going to affect our elderly population that will be selling and sellers on the lower end of the buying spectrum,” the release said. 

 The proposed changes would affect many areas, including: 

• Imposing new non-domestic wastewater requirements for farms. 

“On Kauai we have multi-generational farming operations and entrepreneurs that are already financially strapped that will not be able to finance upgrades,” Realtors said. “If they can’t finance these upgrades they are faced with shutting down or paying fines that will cripple them.”

• Requiring an owner of a commercial or shopping center to upgrade their wastewater system when they have a new tenant that opens a restaurant.

“The state and counties are currently not enforcing the current standards and with the budget cuts that all of our municipalities have suffered this just adds another level of financial stress, making financing more difficult if not impossible for new businesses,” the release said.

• It would prohibit individual wastewater systems for developments with greater than 15 subdivided lots, and no longer exempt developments with one dwelling unit per acre or greater to use individual wastewater systems.

“This will virtually rule out subdivisions with 16 to 50 lots as they will become cost prohibitive. In a 16-lot subdivision you would virtually double the cost of a unit,” Realtors said in the press release.

Persons desiring to speak at the public meetings are asked to submit two copies of their statement before or at the hearing. Written statements will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 17. Submit them to Wastewater Branch, Environmental management Division, State Department of Health, 919 Ala Moana Boulevard, Room 309, Honolulu, HI 96814-4920.

Copies of the proposal are at the Kauai office of the Chief Sanitarian, DOH, 3040 Umi Street, Lihue, and online at http:health.hawaii.gov/wastewater/home/public_notice. For information, contact the Wastewater Branch at (808) 586 4294.

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