PROVINCETOWN — The owners of the Canteen restaurant on Commercial Street had to pay $900 in fines and another $450, double the usual application fee, for putting in an underground propane tank and adding some sand to their outdoor seating area without first getting a signoff from the town’s conservation commission.
The work was done in a protected area and should have been permitted, the commission said.
Co-owners Rob Anderson and Loic Rossignon have paid the fines and application fees and are on the commission’s May 4 meeting agenda to secure after-the-fact permits for the work. But Anderson is upset about the situation. He said they will appeal the fines.
“We do not think we did something wrong, and hope we would win an appeal,” Anderson said.
He blamed the situation on a lack of communication among departments at town hall. “We contracted Days [Propane] to put in the tank, and they went to town hall and pulled a permit with the plumbing inspector,” Anderson said.
The company installed the tank and had the work inspected by the plumbing inspector, who signed off on it, said the Canteen’s owner.
“After the fact, representatives from town hall came back to say we actually should have gotten additional approvals before they granted us permits,” said Anderson.
He argued that town staff should have been communicating with each other. “How are we supposed to know what approvals we need if they don’t tell us, and issue building permits without mentioning that,” he said.
During a conservation commission meeting earlier this month, the town’s environmental planner and conservation agent, Tim Famulare, said the Canteen owners would surely have been aware of the need to secure permits for work in the floodplain and buffer zone of a coastal beach, based on what has been required of them during past projects. They came before the conservation commission when they were expanding seating onto the beach in 2017 and had to comply with a list of conditions.
He and commission chair Alfred Famiglietti have met with the restaurant owners numerous times, Famulare said. Once was for “unauthorized disposal of oyster shells on a protected dune area.”
Famulare painted a grim picture of what could happen if there were a flood where a propane tank that didn’t meet necessary specifications was buried. The tank could collapse under the weight of the saturated ground, he said, or it could become buoyant and cause the connection to the gas line to be severed, resulting in a gas leak.
The enforcement order issued by Famulare cited two violations, at $300 apiece, related to the installation of the underground tank, and one $300 violation related to putting down the sand. He then doubled the usual application fee to $450 because the permits were being requested after the fact.
Before ratifying the enforcement order issued by Famulare, the conservation commission discussed it. Member Nathaniel Mayo asked whether the tank installation and addition of sand would qualify for permitting in their respective locations.
With the right permits, they would be allowed, said Famulare. “Basically, we have to make sure the tanks comply with certain FEMA standards for how they’re installed,” he said. The tank must be on a concrete base and secured with a particular type of fasteners to keep it from lifting if the area is flooded. “It’s not impermissible, but that’s what we would need,” he said.
Rossignon and Anderson hired Safe Harbor Environmental Management shortly after being notified by the town about the violations.
“These things normally would be permitted if you go through the process,” said Safe Harbor Director Gordon Peabody in a phone interview. “When you don’t, it causes a good deal of financial suffering when it’s in a resource area.”
Peabody said the Canteen owners can demonstrate to the commission that the underground tank was properly installed. “The company that installs it supplies photos,” he said. “It’s also behind a concrete seawall.”
During his discussion with the conservation commission, Peabody had said the sand being used in the seating area of the restaurant was a very close match to the existing beach sand. Some had been delivered and was being put in place when Famulare halted the process with the enforcement order.
Famulare confirmed that he had stopped them from putting out any more sand until it could be tested. It was found to be compatible.
Regarding the underground tank, Famulare said the owners have “provided adequate evidence that it was installed to code.” In other words, no major changes will be needed. But they still have to go through the May 4 application hearing to be permitted after the fact.
They also had to file a notice with state Dept. of Environmental Protection.
Regarding Famulare’s reference to the oyster shells being disposed of in the dune area, Anderson said they had been putting the shells there “for the entire history of our restaurant.” They dry them out for use on the driveway.
“One day Alfred [Famiglietti] came and looked and said it was a violation,” Anderson said. “We didn’t know we needed an oyster shell pile shown on our plan.”
He and Rossignon spent the winter improving the property, taking out an old concrete walkway, and replacing it with one that is safer and more accessible, he said. “All of these improvements that we chose to do cost us time and energy during a year when money is short,” Anderson said.
“Actions that are very small and minimal end up sounding malevolent,” he said about the failure to secure permits for the tank and beach sand from the conservation commission. “We weren’t flouting the laws.”