USDA offers county $4M grant, $2M loan for Lono Kona wastewater work


Hawaii County is a step closer to replacing large-capacity cesspools in the Lono Kona subdivision along Kalani Street, thanks to a $4 million grant and a $2.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Environmental Management will be able to use the money to offset the costs of an improvement district for the subdivision, Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd said Tuesday.

“We’re very happy to get it,” Leithead Todd said. “I imagine the property owners are even happier.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled in 1999 that all large-capacity cesspools be closed by April 5, 2005. County officials reached a consent agreement with the EPA in November 2005 to close county-owned cesspools by 2010.

Cesspools were more common in Hawaii than any other state, Leithead Todd said.

Owners in Lono Kona, many of whom have multiunit buildings, have faced the possibility of fines for years. One owner was fined $60,000 for not closing his building’s cesspool, Leithead Todd said.

But those building owners are in a bind because they cannot just install a large-capacity septic system, which requires a set amount of land for a leach field.

Those buildings are too close together, generally, to allow a leach field, she said.

The county, years ago, during Leithead Todd’s first term at the Environmental Management helm, under former Mayor Harry Kim, initiated conversations with landowners about an improvement district there. The process included community meetings, then getting a resolution from the County Council authorizing the department to seek funding and move ahead with the improvement district. In such a district, whatever costs are not covered by the federal grant and low-interest federal loan will be divided among the property owners who benefit from the new wastewater system. Leithead Todd said the price will be divvied up into a per-unit price, not a per-property price.

That prevents a single-family homeowner from paying the same as the owner of a 14-unit building, she said.

“There are so many apartments in this area that were affected,” she added. “We have to look at a way to help them. These are some of the more affordable rentals in Kona. It’s not just the property owners (who are affected by the EPA rules and fines) but the people who rent these units.”

Leithead Todd said her department has not yet finalized its report on the project, and she did not yet have a cost estimate for the entire project, or for the per-unit fees.

Environmental Management officials will need to again take the proposal, once they have a cost estimate, back to Lono Kona property owners for approval. She said property owners, who learned of the one owner’s large fine a few years ago, are nervous about the possibility of facing such fines themselves.

“They have an opportunity to object,” she said. “It’s unlikely a significant number of people will object.”