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Council moves forward with cesspool conversion program

LIHU‘E — Converting a cesspool to a septic tank can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. A new bill introduced by the Kaua‘i County Council seeks to absorb those costs for homeowners.

Finance and Economic Development Committee Chair Luke Evslin and Vice Chair Mason Chock introduced Bill No. 2837 on Sept. 15, which would establish a county program that would utilize $1.2 million in forgivable loans to covert or close existing cesspools.

“By taking advantage of $1.2 million of Clean Water State Revolving Fund moneys, passed from the (Environmental Protection Agency), down to the states, with 100% principal forgiveness, we can very literally install septic systems at no cost to homeowners,” said Evslin in an announcement on Facebook Sept. 16. “Passage of this bill would be a huge win in the fight against our housing crisis and a huge win for our environment.”

Should the bill pass, the program would be managed by the Kaua‘i County Housing Agency because the bill’s intent is to address the housing crisis.

Any landowner with a cesspool is required to upgrade or convert the property’s method of sanitary waste treatment and disposal prior to obtaining a building permit.

“It’s been a huge barrier for people to add on to existing houses or building an ‘ohana unit on the back of their property,” said Evslin during a Monday interview.

The bill prioritizes properties that have an existing or approved building plan for additional dwelling unit (ADU), additional rental unit (ARU), or guest house.

“(It’s the) first priority because we want to use the bill as a mechanism to try and address the housing crisis,” said Evslin. In this way, the bill incentivizes people to create additional housing on their properties.

Other priorities include applicants living in an area that is a high priority for water quality improvement as determined by the state Department of Health Environmental Management Division, those earning no more than 120% of the median household income, and properties that are owner-occupied. Should all the priorities be exhausted, then it would move to a first come, first serve program.

To take full advantage of the available funding, the bill needs to move quickly.

For the next fiscal year, which begins July 2022, the County of Kaua‘i is the only county in the state applying for the funding, and is therefore eligible for the full amount. In future years, the money could be split with additional counties should they apply to implement their own conversion programs.

According to Evslin, $1.2 million would be enough to fund between 30 and 40 conversions, which would need to be completed before the end of June 2023, the end of that fiscal year. Per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cesspools must be converted by 2050.

Before the work can begin, there are several big steps that need to be taken, including hiring administrators and contractors and going through an application process with residential property owners.

If the county is unable to fulfill all the requirements for funding, the full funding amount would not be received and the number of conversions would be lowered.

The bill requires the county to be responsible for the all of the administrative costs of the project, which Evslin projects to be around $150,000. The council is hoping fund this with money from the American Rescue Plan Act over the next four years, but is waiting for clarity as to if this type of cost will qualify for the federal funding.

If it does, it would be a big boost for the bill.

“In my mind it could be the perfect thing to help get this program off the ground for the next four years,” said Evslin.

The bill was approved on first hearing on Sept. 15, and is scheduled for a public hearing on Oct. 20.

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Laurel Smith, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0424 or lsmith@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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