HILO — 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.
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Cabral said she sympathizes with the intent of the bill and agreed with the need to remove the outdated and environmentally harmful cesspools from widespread use, but thinks a better time frame needs to be implemented to do so.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.”
The Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection voted to pass the bill. The Committee on Health and Human Services is slated to pick up the bill today. After that, it needs to be herad by the Finance Committee.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.