County to dig up old cesspool

KAPAA — The Department of Parks and Recreation plans to dig up and open an out-of-service cesspool that may be leaking bacteria into the water at Kapaa Beach Park.

“The abandoned cesspool at Kapaa Beach Park was exposed last month due to beach erosion,” said Lenny Rapozo, director of the department.

He said the Department of Parks and Recreation has discussed its removal with several regulatory agencies.

The cesspool is exposed, has holes in it and has some environmental experts concerned.

Samples of sand and water taken by the Kauai Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation show bacteria concentrations were excessively high, said Carl Berg, chair of the executive committee of the grassroots nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to conserving beaches.

“Combined with the dangerous wires and metal pipes that are exposed at the site, I am shocked that the Hawaii Department of Health did not post a pollution warning sign on the cesspool and that the county did not rope the area off with warning signs,” Berg said.

He said bacteria counts were 186 times the legal limit.

“Surfrider was concerned that feces remaining in the cesspool may have leaked from the visible weep-holes and contaminated the sand around it,” Berg said in an email.

According to Hawaii Administrative Rules 11-54-8, “raw or inadequately treated sewage, sewage for which the degree of treatment is unknown, or other pollutants” is not allowed in “natural public swimming, bathing, or wading areas.”

“Anytime you dig at a beach, there are a lot of environmental safeguards,” said Matthew Kurano, environmental health specialist with the Hawaii Department of Health.

The cesspool at Kapaa Beach Park was taken out of service in 1993, he said.

Rapozo said his staff will open the cesspool and report the findings to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Kate Rao before proceeding.

“If she has no issues with our findings, we will then check back with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands regarding the removal of the cesspool,” Rapozo said. “We have been working with OCCL on the removal and are awaiting guidance from that office.”

David Albright, manager of the Drinking Water Office of the EPA, said the agency was aware of the situation but was allowing the state of Hawaii and Kauai County to address the issue.

“The state is the primary entity that would deal with something like that,” Albright said.

But Rapozo said before the county could remove the cesspool, it had to get approval from the EPA.

“The next step is for Department of Public Works to open the cesspool and report our findings to the EPA, which we plan to do next week. Hopefully after that we will be granted approval for the cesspool removal,” Rapozo said in an email last week. “We are also working with the Department of Public Works to determine the best method for removal.”

Not so, Albright said.

“They will report their findings to the EPA eventually, but they can proceed with removing the cesspool,” he said.

Berg said he’s concerned with how slowly the DOH and the county have handled the situation since he noticed the exposed cesspool on Aug. 11.

Rapozo said his staff is doing its best.

“Maybe we are being overly cautious, but we want all of the government agencies that regulate this type of situation or activity to weigh-in on this to ensure that we are doing everything properly,” he said.

The rules also state that if human sewage does make it into the water, “warning signs shall be posted.”

“Any (cesspool) that spills sewage, we’d have to warn the public,” Kurano said. “If there were sewage, we’d close off the beach. Everything indicates that it’s safe. Our records and what the county is disclosing shows the cesspool at Kapaa Beach park is not an issue.”

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