PROVINCETOWN — Artist and restaurateur Sal Del Deo, 94, has rejected an offer from Cape Cod National Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom of a two-year special-use permit for the dune shack he has occupied seasonally since 1953, according to his son, Romolo Del Deo.
The National Park Service had mailed a “notice to quit” to Sal Del Deo on March 27; NPS workers boarded up the shack on June 29. The offer of the two-year permit came one week later.
The eviction drew local and national press coverage, and U.S. senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, state Sen. Julian Cyr, and state Rep. Sarah Peake all raised objections.
The day after the shack was boarded up, Carlstrom called Romolo Del Deo at the direction of officials in the Interior Dept. to start an “ongoing conversation” about restoring Sal’s access to the shack. After the long July 4 weekend, however, that conversation appears to have reached an impasse.
“We disapprove of the move the Park is making, not only on us, but on all the other cottages,” Sal told the Independent. “Their whole procedure is to say this is a piece of real estate they can capitalize on, and that goes against all the principles of these dune shacks.
“My wife Josephine is probably laughing in her grave, because she was a very political person, and I would stay in the background and support her,” Sal continued. “Now the tables are turned, and I have to face the music with my son and my friends and tell the truth that she told so effortlessly.”
“We’re ultimately doing this for my mother,” Romolo said. “She fought her whole life to save the shacks — all of them. If we save our shack but all of our neighbors are gone, there would be nothing there. It would be a really bittersweet accomplishment.”
Janet Armstrong, 71, has received an eviction notice almost identical to the one served to Sal Del Deo.
Meanwhile, the Park Service is conducting a public leasing program for eight other dune shacks that dramatically departs from the rules the agency established in its Dune Shack Historic District Preservation and Use Plan in 2012. Those rules were negotiated over years to protect both the shacks themselves and their cultural value.
Shack-dwelling families, the select boards of Provincetown and Truro, and an assortment of protestors have said that the current leasing program treats the shacks like real estate instead.
Critics have especially objected to a provision of the current leasing contest that allows applicants to offer more than market-rate rent to win a lease.
Together, the two evictions and the leasing contest mean that come September there could be only one long-term dune dwelling family left in the historic district. Of the 10 families in the district, only Mildred Champlin, 92, and her daughter Andrea Champlin are not at risk of removal this year.
(One more dune shack, belonging to Conrad Malicoat’s heirs, is not part of the historic district and not subject to eviction or leasing.)
“There needs to be an immediate stay and an examination of the entire process,” said Romolo Del Deo. “Right now, it’s obvious that the leasing is about money, the highest bidder. If this goes to court, I would like to use the egregious process of our case to force an examination of all the cases.”
Romolo said that he has repeatedly raised the other dune shacks with Carlstrom, and that Carlstrom has refused to speak about them.
“In every call, I’ve said we want a mediated discussion about all the shacks, and in every conversation, he said, ‘We’re working hard to take care of your father,’ ” Romolo said. “I don’t know if he’s willfully not hearing what I’m saying, or he doesn’t want to address it — but it’s clear he doesn’t have a lot of leash to say anything other than ‘We want to take care of your dad.’ ”
National Park Service spokesperson Tracy O’Toole confirmed that Sal Del Deo had “declined the option made available to him” and said that the family was welcome to bid for a 10-year lease once the agency sets up a public leasing contest for that shack.
Weasels and Leaks
The current leasing contest does not include Del Deo’s shack or the Armstrong shack, which Janet Armstrong has been ordered to vacate by Sept. 2. Her family purchased the shack in 1949, and she began spending time there in the summer of 1952, when she was three months old.
Armstrong said the Park Service realty officer managing her eviction did not appear to know anything about the dune shacks.
“I served on the subcommittee that helped write the Use Plan,” Armstrong said. “When I got this letter, I wrote back that this is not what I agreed to. I agreed that I would fill out an application for a 20-year lease, and there would be six special criteria for evaluating the applications.”
The official asked Armstrong to send her the Use Plan and related documents, then wrote that they were irrelevant to her case.
“Our attorney and park superintendent were familiar with them and didn’t see anything that might extend your stay,” Realty Officer Molly Kammerer wrote to Armstrong.
The Use Plan specifically defines how shacks should be managed after a lifetime leaseholder dies. Armstrong’s parents, David and Connie Armstrong, accepted a lifetime special-use stipulation when the Park Service took their shack by eminent domain in 1981.
On page 25, the plan says that the Park Service should “provide an annual special use permit to a family member or kin of the deceased” until a public leasing opportunity can be concluded and a long-term lease agreement has been signed. The Use Plan describes that transition period as lasting “1 to 2 years.”
Armstrong is worried about how her shack will physically survive such a transition period without anyone to care for it.
“We came back one April to a weasel infestation — there was a nest in the bathroom shelves and one in the tool cabinet,” Armstrong said. “They leave long slimy poops about twice the size of your thumb, and they were all over the place.”
Another year woodpeckers drilled holes that led to a bird’s nest in her pantry, she said, and leaks can open up in winter storms. “We had a leak into the kitchen once that soaked the pasta, rice, and flour — and six-month-old wet pasta smells almost as bad as weasel poop,” Armstrong added.
The Del Deos are planning a public protest for Saturday, July 15. They have coordinated the plan with Provincetown’s police chief, who also alerted the Cape Cod National Seashore to the protest. Chief Ranger Michael Valora called protest organizer Michela Murphy to encourage her to seek a permit from the Park Service.
“Chief Golden has been very supportive,” Murphy said, “and Ranger Valora was very nice, too. I genuinely believe the rangers are very uncomfortable with the evictions. They had created a process for all this, and it was completely negated, and now the rangers are the ones on the front line.”