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LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii Department of Health withdrew a program aimed at helping Hanalei residents upgrade their sanitation systems.

The department pulled the plug on the program one day after Hanalei was identified as one of 14 priority areas where cesspool upgrades are critically needed to protect public health, the Garden Island reported Thursday.

Cesspools are an outdated means of disposing sewage. Hawaii passed a law last year requiring the state’s 88,000 cesspools to be replaced by 2050. There are about 270 cesspools in the Hanalei area.

The program provided funds to the Hanalei Watershed Hui to cover half the cost of installing a septic tank or other modern treatment unit. But Michael Burke, program specialist with the department’s Clean Water Branch, said they’ve been having trouble getting residents to participate.

“We understand that it’s been a challenge to find suitable candidates for cesspool upgrades,” Burke said. “However, Hanalei Watershed Hui committed to 15 upgrades and has yet to demonstrate that five property owners are willing to participate.”

Maka’ala Ka’aumoana, executive director of Hanalei Watershed Hui, said she had a hunch that funding was going to be pulled. She sent a letter to Hanalei property owners on Tuesday alerting them of the possible program snub.

The department and Ka’aumoana agreed during program negotiations that five people needed to be signed onto the program by November. But as of Wednesday, Ka’aumoana only had four letters of intent.

“Community participation in the current Hanalei cesspool swap program has been disappointing, and interest by homeowners in using the program has been significantly lower than expected,” department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said.

The department’s Polluted Runoff Control Program has an open request for proposals that targets Hanalei, and the entity is hoping that interested applicants will submit proposals designed to improve water quality in Hanalei and throughout the state.


Information from: The Garden Island,