By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The approach to sewage at two Kapoho subdivisions remains much as it always has been: Just flush it.
Nearly three years after Hawaii County finished a study outlining potential treatment options, many homes in Kapoho Beach Lots and Kapoho Vacationland Estates remain on cesspools despite being adjacent to the Wai Opae tide pools and Champagne Pond.
Dora Beck, county Environmental Management acting director, said the proposed solutions — which included centralized treatment facilities ranging from $2.85 million to nearly $8 million — were rejected by residents for being too expensive.
“They wanted to know what the cost was per home owner,” she said. “They weren’t very interested after that.”
Roger Meeker, a Kapoho Beach Lots Community Association board member, said there are residents who want something done about the sewage, himself included.
But there was pushback when it came down to the cost, particularly since there is no legal requirement that anything be done, he said.
Without funding commitments from the county or state, the proposals remained a hard sell.
“If you do a conversion to a sewer, the county does a formal improvement district,” Meeker said.
“The logic of that seems very prohibitive here. You’re trying to impose this on existing subdivisions that have been down here 50-some years.”
Concern over pollution of the popular swimming areas goes at least back to the 1980s, when a state Department of Health study found sewage seeping from porous lava tubes. New cesspools have since been banned, and DOH tests water in the swimming areas almost on a weekly basis.
While individual samples do occasionally exceed health guidelines (there have been nine since May), high concentrations have not been frequent enough for the state to close the areas or take additional action, said Watson Okubo, DOH’s monitoring and analysis section chief.
Still, the concern is there.
“It can be a potential health issue,” Okubo said.
“Some of them are pretty close to the ocean.”
As for the county, Beck said nothing is being done to pursue treatment options.
While the study seems destined for the shelf, there has been some progress in Vacationland to move homes — though gradually — off cesspools.
Seeing centralized treatment as not a viable option, the neighborhood’s water company, the Kapoho Kei Water Association, changed its bylaws in 2010 to require an aerobic septic tank be installed for a new homeowner to receive water.
“It’s just too big of a cost for the benefit we would get,” said Hart Phillips, a Kapoho Kei board member.
“So we took it on ourselves.”
Phillips acknowledged the solution will be slow and could take decades to phase out the cesspools.
But he said progress is being made.
“It’s a gradual process but it is a process and we’re accomplishing some stuff,” Phillips said.
That approach may not get rid of all the cesspools, since it doesn’t apply to homes that rely on catchment for water.
It’s also not cheap. An aerobic septic tank can cost between $13,000 and $23,000, he said.
Not everyone was happy with the move, but overall, Phillips said, it was well received.
The neighborhood has 140 dwellings, with 65 cesspools left, he said.
In 2009, there was an estimated 110 homes using cesspools in the two subdivisions with another 140 on septic tanks.
Phillips was unsure of how many of those use catchment, but he believes they are in the minority.
A similar proposal was tried in Kapoho Beach Lots last summer but got many residents pinching their noses.
A petition signed by 82 of the approximately 150 water customers supporting the idea was brought to the Kapoho Water Community, Inc., the neighborhood’s water association, but was voted down by the water board and community members in June.
“We weren’t interested in being an enforcement agency,” said Larry Leach, president of the water board.
Leach said the need also wasn’t demonstrated, noting regular testing of the swimming areas by DOH, and existing county regulations requiring septic tanks for new homes and additions.
Meeker, a member of the neighborhood’s sewage subcommittee, said the decision was disappointing.
“It just seemed like the Vacationland model was a good step,” he said.
The meeting in June, Meeker said, was heated.
“There was a lot of bad feelings that came out of that meeting,” he said.
The subcommittee dissolved shortly afterward.
Meeker said efforts to address sewage in the neighborhood have since lost momentum, and he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon.
“Nothing was passed and nothing is being done,” he said.
For now, Watson said anyone swimming in the area should cover up cuts or wounds and shower afterward. People with immune deficiencies should also be cautious.
“Right now our tests indicate it’s not an immediate issue,” he said. “But it should be in the back of everyone’s minds that these houses are on cesspools.”
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.