Legislation would require cesspool replacement

An amendment to Rhode Island's Cesspool Act of 2007 would require removal of a cesspool within 12 months of a home sale. It would have to be replaced with a sewer hookup if available or a septic system.

"At the time of sale is a very difficult time for a lot of people to come up with an extra $10,000 to $15,000," said Susan Arnold, chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

The association is concerned the amendment, if passed, could hurt the state's fragile housing market recovery.

"We all believe in clean water, but we also believe in home ownership and trying to get the state back on its feet and housing has a key role in that," Arnold said.

Arnold said unlike Massachusetts, the provision has no tax credit for home buyers who would have to replace their cesspools and there's no statewide loan program. Only certain Rhode Island communities are eligible.

"If this is such a huge issue, DEM has the power today, by regulation, to go in and force a homeowner to replace their cesspool if it has failed," Arnold said.

For its part, the state Department of Environmental Management said there is no such thing as a good cesspool and that this provision is the best way to expedite the process of ridding the state of cesspools.

"Yearly, we can remove 500 cesspools through point of sale as opposed to what's taken us about five years to get rid of about 500 cesspools to date," said Brian Moore of the DEM.

Moore said he is sensitive to the money and that the department is trying to get more communities to implement approved onsite water management plans to make them eligible for the loan program.

He denied the agency is taking a heavy handed approach.

"It will impact all citizens at the point of sale. I think it's the most fair and equitable approach we could take," Moore said.

The measure is on the Senate calendar for Wednesday. The General Assembly is expected to adjourn Friday.