Enforcement cases finalized against County of Hawaii, Johnson Resort Properties for cesspool violations

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HONOLULU, HI, June 14, 2010 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued penalty orders fining the County of Hawaii and the owner of Johnson Resort Properties for failing to close large-capacity cesspools, which have been banned since April 2005.

"These actions are part of our continued effort to close large-capacity cesspools to protect drinking water and near-shore water resources in Hawaii," said Jared Blumenfeld, Regional Administrator of EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "Owners and operators need to promptly close their large-capacity cesspools to protect Hawaii waters, as we will continue to pursue violators."

EPA issued a compliance order to the County of Hawaii in 2005 to require closure of 30 large-capacity cesspools. Two of the cesspools accepted untreated waste from 27 residences in the Komohana Heights Subdivision in Hilo. The County failed to close the Komohana Heights cesspools by the required deadline. However, they subsequently installed a new wastewater collection system to connect the homes to the existing county sewer. The County also provided service to 14 additional homes served by individual small-capacity cesspools, which are not prohibited by EPA's regulations. The County of Hawaii will pay a $40,700 penalty for failing to meet the cesspool closure deadline.

Additionally, EPA has settled with Johnson Resort Properties and its owner, Robert Johnson, for failing to close three large-capacity cesspools that service two apartment buildings in Kona. The settlement with Mr. Johnson will result in a supplemental environmental project (SEP) to install an advanced wastewater treatment system for the apartments. The system will provide tertiary treatment of all domestic wastewater from the properties prior to underground injection, and will result in a significantly greater level of treatment than required by state law. As a result of the greater environmental benefit associated with the SEP, EPA agreed to reduce Mr. Johnson's penalty; he will pay an administrative fine of $17,500.

"Over five years have passed since EPA banned large-capacity cesspools," said David Albright, manager of the EPA Pacific Southwest region's Ground Water Office. "While many cesspools are now closed, there are numerous large cesspools in use by restaurants, hotels, office complexes and multiple dwellings which still require attention."

A large-capacity cesspool is one that discharges untreated sewage from multiple dwellings, or a non-residential location that serves 20 or more people per day. Cesspools are used more widely in Hawaii than in any other state. Cesspools discharge raw sewage to the ground, allowing disease-causing pathogens and other contaminants to potentially pollute groundwater, streams and the ocean. Federal regulations, which prohibit large-capacity cesspools as of April 2005, do not apply to single-family homes connected to their own individual cesspools.

For more information on EPA's large-capacity cesspool regulations, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region09/hicesspools.

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