June 18, 2015

House passes Tanzi bill phasing out cesspools

STATE HOUSE – The House today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi to provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state.

The bill would amend the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007, which required the phase-out of cesspools located within 200 feet of a shoreline, wetland or drinking water supply. This bill (2015-H 5668A), which takes effect Jan. 1, provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools beyond the previously set boundaries. It would require that any cesspool be replaced upon the sale or transfer of the property where the cesspool is located.

“Cesspools are not sewage treatment and they just dump untreated waste into the ground. We’ve recognized the hazards they present to the environment for so long that it’s now been nearly 50 years since our state even allowed new construction of them,” said Representative Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett). “We’ve made slow progress toward eliminating them, but we need to go further and recognize that nowhere in Rhode Island is an acceptable place for a cesspool.”

The legislation would require that when a property with a cesspool is sold or otherwise transferred (other than between immediate family members) the cesspool must be replaced with an onsite water treatment system (typically a septic system) or a connection to a sewer system.

Representative Tanzi said the cost to homeowners, which averages $12,000, has long been the sticking point that has prevented the state from eliminating all cesspools in the past, but making the requirement triggered by the transfer of property provides more financing opportunities.

The legislation provides allows when it comes to the responsibility of replacing the cesspool at the point of sale, leaving it up to the buyer and the seller to negotiate which will be responsible, or whether they will share the cost in some manner.

The Clean Water Finance Agency also has two low-interest financing programs to assist homeowners: the Community Septic System Loan Program to replace the cesspool and the Sewer Tie-in Loan Fund for connecting to sewers.

“While it will still be many years before the last cesspool is eliminated in Rhode Island, this is an important step toward that goal,” said Representative Tanzi.

“This is not only a good move for the environment, it is also excellent for jobs and the economy. There are still 25,000 cesspools in our state, and with about 400 of them being eliminated annually under this bill, this is going to put people to work.”

The bill will now advance to the Senate, which passed identical legislation (2015-S 0369A) sponsored by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) May 27.