Maui Senators Sound Off on Wastewater System Policy

September 22, 2014, 2:18 PM HST · Updated September 24, 7:30 AM
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Left to Right: Senator J Kalani English, Senator Gil Keith-Agaran, and Senator Roz Baker. Photo Courtesy Senate Communications.

Left to Right: Senator J Kalani English, Senator Gil Keith-Agaran, and Senator Roz Baker. File photo courtesy Senate Communications.

By Maui Now Staff

Proposed changes to the state’s wastewater management policy could affect some 77,000 homeowners on the neighbor islands, according to State Senator Roz Baker of Maui.

She released information this week saying the proposal would prohibit the installation of new cesspools, and require sewer connections or upgrades for existing cesspools to a septic tank within 180 days after the sale of a property.

Senator Baker is asking the state Department of Health to hold public hearings on the neighbor islands, saying “using the administrative rules process instead of actively engaging the affected communities is not the best approach.”

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According to Senator Baker, there is a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 2 on Oʻahu where only 11,000 homeowners will be affected by the proposed changes.  While the meeting is available via video conference on Maui, Kauaiʻi and Hawaiʻi Island, Baker said there are an estimated 1,400 residents with cesspools on Molokaʻi that will not be able to participate.

“There is no doubt in my mind that septic tanks are better than cesspools,” said Senator Baker in a joint press release. “However, the department should have been working with the community on a plan that could be supported.”

She continued saying that while she appreciates the department’s efforts in wanting to protect groundwater sources by reducing the number of cesspools in the state, she said she would prefer, “a carrot rather than stick approach to give our community members a genuine voice in any proposal.”

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Maui’s senatorial delegation joined together in seeking more community engagement in the process, with baker calling for public hearings on all the neighbor islands.

Fellow senator J Kalani English said the proposal could have unintended consequences especially for those in the rural communities that he serves who do not have readily available access to public sewer systems.

“The DOH is making a flawed assumption with this proposal, that each homeowner has easy access to a public sewer system,” said Senator English, who noted that the majority of the district that he serves does not have public sewer systems at all.

“Improvements to our wastewater system are necessary, but let’s make sure it’s done right by giving our communities, especially those who will be most affected, an opportunity to provide input. I call on the DOH to conduct public hearings on these proposed rules in Hāna, Haʻikū, Kula, Pāʻia, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi,” he said.

Senator Gilbert Keith-Agaran, who represents Wailuku, Waiheʻe, and Kahului also commented saying, “I agree that the department should take the time to meet with and hear from the neighbor island and rural communities that will be impacted the most by this policy change.”

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa also commented on the issue earlier this month saying, “This proposed rule change could affect thousands of Maui County residents and the Department of Health needs to rethink it’s approach. The state needs to come here – not just hold one day of video conferencing – and explain to affected residents about this rule change face to face, as well as allow them a chance to voice their opinions on the matter.”

In an email statement dated Sept. 12, Mayor Arakawa said, “Also, these kinds of significant changes should not be taking place now, as one state administration ends. We should at least wait until the new administration is in place before addressing this issue.”

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