Council kills loan proposal

LIHUE — The County of Kauai will not be going into the money lending business any time soon. 

The Kauai County Council soundly defeated a proposal encouraging Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s administration to create a low-interest loan program that would help residents upgrade their cesspools to septic systems on the heels of imminent changes to state Department of Health rules on wastewater.

“This is the state telling us what we need to do, and here’s this mandate about converting cesspools, of which they don’t necessarily accrue monies along with it, but they give us the mandate,” County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said before the seven-member board unanimously killed his proposal for the loan program. “I want to make sure we’re very clear that the issue here is to put this on the radar screen.”

The about-face comes less than a week after state Department of Health officials released amendments to their proposed rule changes on wastewater, which initially prohibited new cesspools from being built and required property owners to upgrade their cesspools to septic systems within 180 days after their property is sold.

“The rules will require only cesspools that most affect human health and water quality to be upgraded upon sale of a property,” state Department of Health officials wrote in a Nov. 13 report. “Only cesspools that are near a public drinking water well, and those within 750 feet of the shoreline, a stream or wetland will be affected.” 

Of the 13,688 cesspools on Kauai, about 43 percent of them, or 5,863 individual cesspools, will need to be upgraded because they are located next to sensitive water bodies, state officials wrote. Though these cesspools would need to be upgraded when the property is sold, the state will give property owners one year, rather than six months, to do so. 

Cesspool upgrades, however, would not apply to instances when affected properties are conveyed to family members.  

“The DOH evaluated the comments and decided that some changes should be made to address the concerns from the public,” according to the state report.

State officials said the department will also offer grants to eligible homeowners to install modern treatment systems near public drinking water wells and zero-interest loans to lower-income homeowners near streams or the ocean. Property owners with higher incomes, meanwhile, would be eligible for 2 percent interest loans to upgrade their cesspools.

“Generally speaking, I think they’ve been very responsive to the comments they’ve received, at least from us, anyway,” County Engineer Larry Dill said.

Kapaa resident Anne Punohu, however, said she supported the creation of a county loan program as a contingency plan.

“I’m not the type of person to really trust the state to take care of Kauai,” Punohu said. “I feel like we have a lot of issues, and I think it is very important to protect our people who could not afford to take care of this situation. It would be nice if we could get some assurances from the state that they would be kicking in enough so that we wouldn’t need the resolution; however, I don’t think that would be the case, and I think it’s important that we have something extra in place for our people who need it.”

It costs about $15,000 to $20,000 to convert a cesspool to a septic system. If a property cannot accommodate a new septic tank and leach field system, the new rule revisions allow for exemptions from the upgrade requirement.

Furfaro said he was pleased with the changes but warned that county officials must follow up on the state’s promise.

“Even the introduction of the resolution has made some progress because they’re now saying, ‘We have money, you don’t have to go out and set aside money,’” Furfaro said.

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