Realtors need to get on board with cleaning waters


To the Editor:

In a recent Warwick Beacon article (July 8, “Cesspool Phase-out Dead for this Year”), representatives of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors (RIAR) made troubling and misleading comments about cesspools and cesspool phase-out legislation that warrant rebuttal. As a reminder, cesspools are simply holes in the ground for dumping sewage, with no treatment. Sewage from homes and businesses go straight into groundwater, lakes, streams, ponds, and the Bay, contaminating swimming beaches, shellfish beds, and drinking water supplies. DEM [Department of Environmental Management] estimates that there are 25,000 cesspools remaining in Rhode Island, with about 3,000 in Warwick alone.

When the General Assembly did not pass a bill that would have required cesspools to be removed when a property is sold or transferred, RIAR’s Monica Staff commented to the Beacon, “We see this as a win for us and our clients.” It’s hard to fathom why the realtors would oppose a bill that protects public health, protects homebuyers, home sellers and real estate agents, and increases property values.  

Ms. Staff went on to say, “If this was truly a public health issue, why doesn’t everyone have to do it? Why are people in the market for a new home being singled out?” First, this is a public health issue. That’s why it has been illegal to install a cesspool since the 1960s. The real question is: Why are people with cesspools being given a free pass while the vast majority of Rhode Islanders are doing their part to protect public health and Narragansett Bay by using proper septic systems or paying their sewer bills?

In the Beacon article RIAR President Robert Martin “lamented the lack of a ‘funding mechanism’ in the bill.” As RIRA was made aware early in the session, funding assistance is available to communities that have adopted state-approved wastewater management plans. This below-market-rate loan program is administered by the RI Clean Water Finance Agency. Eighteen towns have adopted these plans and thus qualify for loans. Fourteen of those towns have taken out loans totaling nearly $11 million. Ten more towns still lack wastewater management plans, but, as RIAR is well aware, DEM is reaching out to those towns to help them complete the simple process of developing a wastewater management plan.

This legislation would protect home buyers, not penalize them, in several important ways: they would not face the cost of an upgrade or sewer tie-in in the future; would be purchasing a home with the confidence that this environmental hazard has been dealt with; and would not run the risk of being denied a mortgage by lenders, who are increasingly unwilling to finance the purchase of a home with an existing cesspool. Their family would no longer face the health risk of being exposed to polluted and hazardous groundwater or groundwater seepage at the surface. 

The legislation also provides incentives to homeowners who are considering selling their property: eliminating the cesspool in advance of sale would eliminate a major risk for potential homebuyers, resulting in an increase in the property’s value. The homeowner has control over the timing of the upgrade and has the option of upgrading at the time of a financing event – the sale of the house. 

Rather than crow about defeating legislation that protects homeowners, homebuyers, public health and Narragansett Bay, the RI Realtors Association should get on board with the rest of the state and support the cleanup of our local waters by supporting cesspool phase-out legislation.

Rhode Islanders rightfully take great pride in the progress we’ve made cleaning up Narragansett Bay. We are the Ocean State, not the Cesspool State.

Topher Hamblett

Director of Advocacy, Save The Bay


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