Bill advances that puts onus on sellers to upgrade cesspools

A rapidly progressing state Senate bill would mandate that sellers of properties featuring cesspools upgrade to a septic or sewer system after the purchase.

Senate Bill 2567, which passed the Senate and is moving through House committees, aims to replace cesspools with more modern waste management systems so as to protect the state’s groundwater.

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A report from the state Department of Health shows there are more than 88,000 cesspools — pits wherein sewage waste seeps directly into the ground — within the state, with more than 50,000 of them on the Big Island. Statewide, cesspools deposit approximately 53 million gallons of raw sewage daily. The wastewater enters the groundwater, which in turn threatens the safety of drinking water and the state’s coral reefs.

In order to combat this, SB 2567 would, if passed, require sellers of a property that included a cesspool to upgrade the cesspool, at cost, by connecting to a sewer system or install a septic tank. This upgrade would be required to occur within an as-yet-undetermined length of time after the purchase, although an earlier draft of the bill specified 180 days.

According to the bill, upgrading a cesspool costs, on average, $20,000.

The bill also would require any real estate agent selling a property featuring a cesspool to disclose the existence of the cesspool to prospective buyers, as well as explain the sellers’ obligation to upgrade the cesspool, “so that buyers and sellers can negotiate the payment of the upgrade costs as part of the sale,” the bill reads.

Nancy Cabral, owner of Coldwell Banker Day-Lum Properties, said she feared the bill would disproportionately impede Hawaii homeowners compared to incoming mainland buyers.

“I’m worried it will make it harder for local residents to sell a house, but the cost of upgrading might not put off people from out of town,” Cabral said. “I think it will impact locals more than outsiders, which is unfortunate.”

Cabral said she sympathizes with the intent of the bill and agreed with the need to remove the outdated and environmentally harmful cesspools from widespread use, but thinks a better time frame needs to be implemented to do so.

“There aren’t enough contractors on the Big Island to convert all the cesspools here,” Cabral said.

Cabral said she would prefer a plan to require all cesspools in the state to be converted within a several-year period, thus promoting the growth of businesses that would do so.

In testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection last week, Ken Hiraki of the Hawaii Association of Realtors voiced his opposition to the bill, on grounds that it would require real estate brokers to provide engineering advice beyond their expertise, as well as that point-of-sale requirements would do little to reduce pollution, particularly when some sales might take years to complete.

However, significantly more people testified in support of the bill, primarily on the basis of environmental protection. The Hawaii County Council approved of it, with council member Eileen O’Hara warning that the effects of water pollution permeate into all aspects of society.

“Since water is such an essential resource used for so many aspects of life, when it is no longer safe, the resulting problems span far and wide,” O’Hara wrote. “Not having clean drinking water forces people to spend time and money hauling or buying safe water. Additionally, polluted ocean water will have a negative impact on our marine life and fishing. Finally, polluted swimming areas will eventually turn away tourists and the money they bring to the state.”

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The Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection voted to pass the bill. The Committee on Health and Human Services and the Finance Committee have yet to vote on the measure.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. burned_out March 18, 2018 9:03 am

    I lived on septic systems for years in another state. There is no way a septic system should cost $20,000. Allow for easy permitting and OWNER installation and a county inspection. You Hawaiians and your obsession with keeping contractors rich is the problem.


  2. PUNATIC March 18, 2018 9:07 am

    Eileen just lost my vote……as well as Joy for wanting neighbor islanders to fund the stupid rail fiasco!


  3. Benny HaHa March 18, 2018 9:36 am

    Where are they going to put all the pumped liquids & solids from all these new septic tanks? Talk about arbitrary regulation.


  4. metalman808 March 18, 2018 10:19 am

    The state should pay for it they allowed it to happen for so many years just so they could collect taxes on these huge subdivisions. with all the property tax money they should put that into the sewer system. Not towards their retirement and benefits package and raises.


  5. panzrwagn March 18, 2018 2:07 pm

    1) I sincerely don’t think this has anything to do with bureaucracy, overreach, or padding retirement accounts.
    2) It also has nothing to do with keeping contractors rich.
    3) This is a serious public health and environmental issue for the entire state, not just Hawaii, and delaying action jeopardizes everyone and everything that is Hawaii.
    4) I had a septic system installed in 2016. It cost around $10,000, including excavation, tank, miscellaneous connections and the drainage field prep, and finish. But I didn’t have to pump out a cesspool, dispose of the contents, and make a safe working environment first, just started digging. So yeah, it’s going to cost a lot more than $10K.
    5) The state and the counties can help by establishing pre-approved septic designs and expedited permitting that only require site validation. This simplifies the overall design, permit and approval process. Standard designs also help lower costs for major components like the tank, and the overall labor. Innovation can be stimulated by encouraging submitting alternate designs for preapproval with royalties paid to the designers per installation.
    6) States and counties can also help by supporting the necessary changes to the tax system in effect providing low interest loans to homeowners via tax credits or deductions.

    I don’t know anyone who thinks cesspools are a good idea, or that drinking polluted water downstream from one is in any way healthy. The islands can handle a few, but we are either at or beyond the tipping point, and it is up to us to fix it.


  6. Dave C March 18, 2018 6:17 pm

    Might the next step be to mandate the seller to upgrade the house to the latest version of the building code?


  7. MDK 88 March 18, 2018 9:51 pm

    Septic tanks still leach untreated sewage into the ground. Only difference is the liquids(ideally) pass through several feet of cinder. If a septic tank was to crack or develop a leak, wouldn’t it be essentially a plastic lined cesspool?


  8. Doreen March 20, 2018 11:59 am

    Will they be some assistance for financial aid to those elderly retired who can’t afford it?


  9. Doreen March 20, 2018 12:01 pm

    Okay. Septics need to be cleaned out on a regular basis. Where does the waste go after that? Back into the landfills?


  10. David Hill March 22, 2018 9:18 am

    I have no plans on moving. My cesspool was built in 1988 and built to code at that time. Now Im retired living off a meager SS check and will not ever be able to afford a $20,000 upgrade (unless I come across a windfall). Fortunately I have until 2050 to upgrade if I continue to live here. I most certainly will be dead by then.


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