HILO — Oh, poo. The county missed one.
Back in 2006, the county scrutinized the island for gang cesspools in order to close them to be compliant with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandate. But one cesspool, at the Kainaliu parking lot comfort station, was overlooked.
That’s going to cost the county an undisclosed amount in fines, thanks to a settlement agreement approved Wednesday by the County Council. County attorneys declined to say how much county taxpayers are paying until after the deal is approved by the EPA. An EPA spokesman could not be reached by press-time Monday.
The undisclosed fine is “a reasonable amount of money,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, joining Kohala Councilman Tim Richards in concerns that paying the fine could set a precedent for future discoveries of problems.
“We don’t want to set ourselves up more fines, more fines, because we could use that money to actually close the cesspools,” Richards said.
The county is responsible only for the municipal cesspools, not the estimated 50,000 private cesspools out there, Richards was told.
Closing cesspools is a priority because the facilities — basically a hole in the ground into which sewage flows — are considered a serious threat to the island’s groundwater and near-shore marine waters. Hawaii Island has the most of any island in the state.
“Back in 2006, the Department of Public Works went through the entire island and attempted to identify all large capacity cesspools and at that point we went and closed them all either connected them to the sewer or installed a septic system or an alternative waste disposal. This particular cesspool was overlooked. This particular site was closed because it was being vandalized,” said Public Works Director David Yamamoto. “In 2008 it was reopened without recognizing that the cesspool had not been converted at the time.”
Yamamoto said no one was aware the cesspool was operating in noncompliance until the EPA pointed it out.
“We were somewhat surprised, but when we explained we were in the process of closing the cesspool they came back to us with a fine,” Yamamoto said.
“I’m somewhat surprised the EPA would ding us for that because this is actually a pretty good explanation,” Richards said.
The Kainaliu parking lot currently has portable luas available for the public and the county will replace the cesspool with a septic system sometime this spring, Yamamoto said.
Meanwhile, the county will double-check to see that no other cesspools have been overlooked, Yamamoto said.