Although it was still in committee as of yesterday and this session of the General Assembly is drawing to a close, Warwick Representative Frank Ferri (D-Dist 22) says there’s a chance legislators could approve a measure to phase out all cesspools in the state.
The non-profit environmental organization, Save the Bay, is urging its members to contact their legislators in support of the bill introduced in April by Representatives Tanzi, Walsh, Valencia, Ferri and Handy. The goal of the bill is “to eliminate all cesspools regardless of whether or not they are located in close proximity to tidal water areas and public drinking waters.”
The phase out strategy is structured so that cesspools connected to a building being sold or transferred to non-family members must be replaced with an OWTS (on-site wastewater treatment system), such as a septic tank or a connection to a public sewer. The replacement must occur within one year of the sale or transfer.
This new legislation would replace the R.I. Cesspool Act of 2007 that required all cesspools within 200 feet of a tidal body of water, drinking water supply, or public drinking water well to be removed by Jan. 1, 2013. This deadline was pushed back to 2014 and waived for areas planning to install sewers by 2020, like Warwick. Inspections of cesspools were also required by 2012.
Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, said Tuesday, “legislation with a date requirement has been proven to be unworkable because it forces homeowners to make this investment by a rigid date.” He said the new act is more convenient for homeowners because it gives them more control over when they replace their cesspool.
“It’s the fairest and most equitable way to encourage people to replace cesspools,” he said.
Stone believes that there aren’t any major drawbacks because “it’s the right thing to do for the environment since cesspools are a major source of pollution to the bay.”
Ferri said that the bill is still alive in committee and believes it has a good chance of going through, despite the short amount of time remaining in the current General Assembly session.
Many people in Warwick have cesspools because the average septic system costs around $5,000 and sewers are not available in every section of the city. This added cost might make the elimination of cesspools difficult for many homeowners and buyers.
“As far as my constitutions go, many sewers are not really available right now,” said Ferri.
According to the administrative coordinator of the Warwick Sewer Authority, Lynn Owens, sewer construction projects are on the drawing boards and construction is dependent on funding. “Presently, the Warwick Sewer Authority [WSA] has exhausted all funding available for sewer construction,” she said.
Revenue bonds totaling $23 million for sewer construction will be discussed during the Warwick City Council meeting on July 8.