LIHUE — New changes may be coming soon for property owners with cesspools statewide.
And some residents and officials say the costs will not come cheap, if state Department of Health officials finalize rules that may no longer allow new cesspools to be built and require existing ones to be upgraded when a property is sold.
Some county officials estimate it may cost Kauai residents at least $15,000 to $20,000 to convert their cesspools to a septic system.
“I understand the concerns from the state’s point of view, which is probably more of a health concern, but to me, it puts a pretty spendy burden on either the seller or the new buyer, depending on who has to take that,” said Ryan Kimball, whose plumbing company, Readyman Services, Inc., occasionally addresses cesspool fixes.
It is a hurdle that outgoing Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he would like to address by sponsoring a measure that encourages Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and his administration to create a low-interest loan program that would help qualified Kauai residents living near steams, rivers, oceans or shorelines convert their cesspools to septic systems.
State officials estimate there are about 90,000 cesspools in the state — almost 14,000 on Kauai.
“What I’m saying to them is, ‘If we have issues with our rivers, streams, shorelines, and so forth, we’ll float a $10 million bond at the best possible rates for people who want to change their cesspools to septic systems at a rate that’s only one-half percent higher than what the county can borrow,’ and we’ll do it for people who are within 200 feet of the ocean or a river,” Furfaro said. “The state is only saying, ‘You’ve got to do it within 18 months after you sell your place,’ but there are 14,000 cesspools.”
This proposed program, Furfaro said, would be created through a 20-year loan from a state fund that specifically addresses “water quality protection projects that correct surface water quality impairment, or eliminate or prevent ground water contamination.”
The loans would target properties being sold within a two-year groundwater travel time to a public drinking water well or 200 feet of a perennial stream, river, ocean or shoreline. Under the proposed loan program, eligible property owners must also have household incomes that are within 20 percent above the Kauai median household income, which is currently set at $70,300.
“I like the idea of putting a future date where all cesspools must be converted and tax credits available as incentives for existing homeowners to convert as soon as possible,” Kauai Board of Relators President-elect Chad Deal, of Kauai Tropical Properties, wrote in an email. “The burden needs to be alleviated as much as possible for individual homeowners since it was not their fault they ended up with a cesspool. They were common place and approved by DOH in the past.”
Turtle Cove Realty President Lee Morey agreed and said the Kauai Board of Relators “have always supported ending the use of cesspools and cleaning up our precious environment.”
At issue, she said, was the state Department of Health proposal to require cesspools be changed out soon after a property is sold.
“This did not meet an efficient or environmentally expedient standard that we would like to see,” Morey wrote in an email. “It was very problematic and created new issues for lenders, the elderly and it hurt those that could least afford it.”
Furfaro’s proposed loan program, she said, “has thoughtfully addressed the issue.”
County Engineer Larry Dill, in an Oct. 16 letter sent to the state Department of Health, said county officials “fully support the prohibition of installation of new cesspools statewide” but recommended that cesspool upgrades be phased in.
The proposed rule changes, he said, should first apply to “those properties where the greatest threats to the environment exist, such as cesspools in areas within a two-year groundwater travel time to the intake of a public drinking water well, cesspools within 200 feet of a perennial stream channel, and cesspools within 200 feet of the shoreline.”
Dill also recommended state officials establish a zero or low-interest financing program to assist homebuyers in upgrading their cesspools or implement a tax credit for homebuyers who upgrade their cesspools.
Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said state officials are working on revisions to their current proposal.
Council Vice Chair Mason Chock Sr. said he supports Furfaro’s proposal but is wary of the county’s other funding obligations.
Hawaii is the only state in the nation that still allows new cesspools to be constructed. About 800 new cesspools, state Department of Health officials estimate, are approved for construction each year.
“If it’s structured properly where the county doesn’t lose money and can fund and assist the need for this to occur and the health of the environment, I think it’s a good resolution,” Chock said.
The Kauai County Council will take up issue starting at 8:30 a.m.