LIHUE — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced the closure of five illegal cesspools in Hawaii in 2019, part of ongoing action to replace all cesspools in the state by the year 2050.
None of those cesspools were on Kauai, but EPA is investigating at least one more on the island and settled with NF Kawakami in 2018 for an illegal cesspool at the Koloa Big Save location.
EPA announced that the Big Save cesspool had to be closed and replaced with a wastewater treatment plant in November 2018 and the company was required to pay a civil penalty of $110,000.
There are an estimated 90,000 cesspools in Hawaii and according to the state Department of Health, about 14,000 of those are on Kauai. Act 125, passed in 2017, requires their replacement. The estimated cost to do so is about $1.75 billion.
So far, DOH says six total cesspools have been ordered closed on Kauai: one owned by Gay &Robinson closed in April 2010; one owned by Lealani Corp. and Poipu Inn Inc. at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler in Koloa that closed in November 2012; one in Old Koloa Town owned by the Smith Waterhouse Family of Koloa closed in July 2018; one owned by Tahiti Nui Enterprises and Christian Marston in Hanalei closed August 2012; and the Big Save Koloa cesspool.
The Tuesday EPA announcement announced closures of three cesspools associated with Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Oahu; one associated with the recreation center at the Kailua View Estates on Hawaii Island; and one associated with a multi-business commercial property on Hawaii Island.
Currently under investigation is a cesspool on Burns Field associated with Maverick Helicopters near Kauai’s salt beds.
Aug. 1, members of the Hui Hana Pa’akai o Hanapepe — made up of the families that have been making salt at that location for generations — requested DOH and EPA immediately investigate the use of the “unpermitted restroom facility and cesspool.”
That letter was also mailed to elected officials Hawaii Rep. Dee Morikawa and Kauai County Councilman Luke Evslin, who both reached out on their own to confirm the existence of the cesspool.
Part of that letter reads: “This cesspool poses significant threats to our sensitive ecosystems including the traditional and customary practice of making salt beds …”
Response to those letters from the state DOH included a response from Keith Kawoka, DOH deputy director for environmental health.
That response says: “Mr. Kawaoka reports that Wastewater Branch staff conducted a field inspection and determined the existence of a previously utilized, unapproved cesspool for an unpermitted restroom and also observed two portable toilet facilities for use by employees and customers.”
The letter further confirms DOH has instructed Maverick Helicopters, operated by Smoky Mountain Helicopters Inc., to properly abandon the cesspool, obtain a building permit for the restroom, construct a new individual wastewater system and remove the two portable toilets after that system is approved for use.
Tuesday, Malia Nobrega of the Hui Hana Pa‘akai o Hanapepe, confirmed she’s spoken with EPA and they’re investigating the situation.
Representatives from EPA said Wednesday they weren’t able to comment on “potential or ongoing investigations.”
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA banned large-capacity cesspools in 2005. Since then, more than 3,400 large-capacity cesspools have been closed statewide; however, hundreds remain in operation.