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Proposed state rule could impact thousands of Maui homeowners

By Staff | Oct 9, 2014

The state Department of Health will hold an informational meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m. in the Council Chamber at the County Building to discuss proposed administrative rules on cesspools and wastewater systems.

These proposed amendments to the Hawaii Administrative Rules would prohibit new cesspools and phase out existing ones through a mandatory upgrade to a septic system or other wastewater system upon sale of property.

A document with the proposed revisions is available at mauicounty.us/cesspools.

Concerned about the impact of the changes on Maui residents, County Council Chair Gladys Baisa requested that DOH conduct this Maui meeting.

“I know a lot of residents, especially Upcountry, will be affected by the proposed cesspool regulations,” Baisa said. DOH estimated there are more than 12,000 cesspools on Maui.

“I urge affected residents to attend the Oct. 15 meeting, as the rule change may cause a significant financial burden to homeowners,” she added.

Baisa and the Realtors Association of Maui have voiced concerns about the proposed amendments meant to protect the ocean and drinking water supplies.

“Given the magnitude of what is being proposed, its severe impacts on property rights and the availability of affordable housing in rural Hawaii, our association feels it must state for the record that this proposal is poorly developed, did not include stake-holders in its development, and as a result will not produce the desired effect,” RAM noted in a letter to the state Health Department.

Baisa urged the department to give homeowners at least a year to complete any mandatory conversion to a new wastewater system. DOH has proposed a 180-day time frame.

“Providing for an extended time frame to complete the required upgrades would impose less of a burden on Maui County’s homeowners and promote compliance with the rule,” Baisa said.

She also suggested exempting low-risk cesspools from the upgrade requirement and asked state officials to consider factors like a cesspool’s proximity to the ocean and drinking water sources, soil condition and lot size.

“I support the intent to protect the quality of Hawaii’s nearshore waters and drinking water supplies,” Baisa said.

“However, there is no justification to require elimination of cesspools that present little to no risk of contaminating our water supply or the ocean.”

In her letter, Baisa noted the cesspool upgrade requirement should not apply to transfers between family members, and that the state should provide funding support to homeowners when upgrades are required.

The cost of each cesspool upgrade is estimated at $20,000.

How many Maui homeowners can afford an unexpected purchase like this with no say in the matter?

“I urge the state to consider ways to mitigate financial hardship,” Baisa said.

“I understand the state’s intent to upgrade our wastewater systems but invite them to strongly take a look at the unintended impacts this would cause across the state, especially in rural districts.”

Written comments will be accepted by DOH at Wednesday’s meeting. For more information, contact DOH’s Wastewater Branch in Honolulu at (808) 586-4294.