PROVIDENCE -- The Department of Environmental Management's Office of Compliance and Inspection has issued an Expedited Citation Notice (Notice) to 29 property owners who are in violation of requirements under the Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007. The Act applies to cesspools located within 200 feet of the coastline of tidal waters, within 200 feet of public wells throughout the state, and within 200 feet of the shoreline of surface drinking water reservoirs with an intake to the water supply. As of January 1, 2014, the use of all cesspools located within these 200 foot zones is prohibited. Those cesspools must be abandoned and the building upgraded with a new onsite wastewater treatment system (OWTS) or connected to available municipal sewer lines.
Of the 29 Notices issued, 14 were for cesspools located within 200 feet of a drinking water well or reservoir. Statewide, DEM has identified 477 known cesspools and 299 suspected cesspools that are subject to the Cesspool Act. Of these, 300 have started the permitting process to replace the cesspool with an OWTS; 101 are in areas that will have sewers available in the near future; and 51 have received extensions for financial hardship. DEM's enforcement effort is targeted to those property owners that are not within any of these categories. Going forward, DEM expects to issue about 20 Notices per month, with each Notice carrying a $200 penalty. The issuance of the Notices follows efforts by the DEM since the Cesspool Act was enacted to get property owners into compliance without assessing penalties. Those efforts included issuing three letters to each property owner.
"Over the past three years, DEM has made numerous efforts to make property owners aware of the Cesspool Act and the deadline for compliance," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Initially, we identified 3,100 properties that may be subject to the Cesspool Act. While the Department has a responsibility to enforce the Cesspool Act, we also recognize the financial burden this has on property owners. Issuing these Notices is a way that we hope will get property owners into compliance without imposing onerous penalties."
A cesspool is any buried chamber that receives sewage from a building for disposal into the ground. All cesspools in Rhode Island pre-date 1968 and are considered sub-standard systems. Because of their age, most cesspools have reached the end of their useful life and some periodically, including seasonally and with spring rains, overflow and cause sewage to be discharged into nearby surface waters. Also, they don't treat wastewater, but merely dispose of it. Cesspools concentrate the wastewater in one location, often deep within the ground and in direct contact with groundwater, causing groundwater contamination. This groundwater may flow into nearby drinking water wells and surface waters, contributing to adverse public health and environmental impacts. "Rhode Islanders are proud of our coasts, bays, lakes and rivers, and well we should be. Our water resources provide clean drinking water, safe and pleasant places to swim, fish and boat, and contribute greatly to the health of our communities," Director Coit noted. "The Ocean State would not be nearly as attractive to residents and tourists were it not for the quality and character of our waterways."
Expedited Citation Process Encourages Early Settlement of Violations with Reduced Penalties for Non-Compliance
This group of notices marks the first of those issued under a law enacted by the General Assembly last year that allows DEM to issue expedited citations for environmental violations. The expedited citation process encourages quick resolution of violations, allows for payment of a reduced penalty, and ensures a return to compliance for smaller violations of environmental regulations. The process benefits small businesses and owners by providing an opportunity to quickly and inexpensively address environmental violations.
Violations that the DEM is using for expedited citations are straightforward, easily correctable, and those where the person cited knew or should have known of the violation. In cases where the DEM cites a person for non-compliance through issuance of an expedited citation, penalties of up to $2,500 may be assessed. By statute expedited citations are effective for 60 days. If the matter is unresolved and the expedited citation expires, DEM retains the right to pursue formal enforcement action that would include issuance of a separate Notice of Violation and order and penalty. The person cited would have a right to a hearing.
For additional information or questions about Expedited Citation Notices, contact David Chopy, chief of DEM's Office of Compliance and Inspection at 222-4700 ext. 7400.