STATE HOUSE – Legislation that would provide for the eventual removal of all cesspools in the state has passed both legislative chambers of the General Assembly and now moves to the governor’s office.
The Senate bill (2015-S 0369A), introduced by Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and the House version (2015-H 5668A) introduced by Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett) amend the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007, including replacing individual sewage disposal systems with onsite wastewater treatment systems and would require cesspool removal or replacement upon the transfer of the property where the cesspool is located under certain circumstances.
The current law requires the phase-out of cesspools located within 200 feet of a shoreline, wetland or drinking water supply. This bill provides for the eventual removal of all cesspools beyond these 200 foot boundaries.
“Cesspools are an outdated form of handling wastewater; for this reason, the state banned the installation of new cesspools over 40 years ago,” said Senator Sosnowski. “The main advantage of the using point-of-sale approach for cesspool phase-out is that the cost of replacing a cesspool can be taken into account in the selling price of the home and/or the financing of the home.”
An onsite wastewater treatment system is any system of piping, tanks, disposal areas, alternative toilets or other facilities designed to function as a unit to convey, store, treat and/or dispose of sanitary sewage by means other than discharge into a public sewer system.
The legislation provides flexibility when it comes to the responsibility of replacing the cesspool at the point of sale, leaving it to agreement whether it will be the responsibility of the buyer or the seller.
“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.”
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 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.
“This is not only a good move for the environment,” said Representative Tanzi. “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.”