Two unlooked for and unwanted surprises saw the light of day for the first time in decades last week when contractors working on George Pergantis’s proposed “Carriage House Seafood Grill and Restaurant” on Main Street uncovered abandoned underground storage tanks.
Groton contractor Brian LaGasse was excavating a trench for a four-inch water main from Main Street to the 1913 era garage, the building in which Pergantis wants to open the new restaurant. The work crew discovered two underground storage tanks near the right front corner of the building facing Main Street, tanks that had never been recorded on any town records.
He explained that “There were two underground storage tanks found on site, within six inches of the water main that was installed. I followed up checking our records and town hall records — there aren’t any records of the tanks. I was unable to find any fills or vents for them, so we have to assume they are abandoned tanks. Due to the location of the water line and concerns about what would happen if the tanks failed underground, we had to recommend that they be removed.”
Edward Cataldo, Groton’s Building Commissioner, agreed with the removal order, Shute said.
Abandoned underground tanks are considered an environmental hazard by the state and by local officials because they can hold reservoirs of toxic materials such as oil, gasoline, or food waste. The contaminants are considered volatile because some may be flammable. If the tanks leak liquids into the water supply, the water supply and the soil surrounding the tanks is contaminated. Because one of the tanks is only inches from the new water main, officials were concerned that any tank leakage could compromise seals and joints in the main.
The tank removal and mitigation is tightly controlled by state laws, and process can be expensive.
“They are supposed to be removed by a specially licensed company, licensed to do that kind of work,” Shute said. “They’re going to have to dig out one tank first and remove it, and then slide the other tank over and remove that, so there’s going to be quite the extensive removal of dirt for them to expose them all. When they are removed, there’s going to have to be a LSP (Licensed Site Professional — an engineer or chemist licensed by the state to oversee the assessment and cleanup of contamination) on site to determine if there’s been any contamination.”
If the LSP determines that the tanks leaked and that soil has been contaminated, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection must be notified, according to Ed Coletta, spokesperson for the MDEP. He said Monday that his agency had not been contacted by town officials yet, and may not be. State regulations require that the DEP be notified if tanks are leaking or contamination has taken place. If the tanks are not removed or it is determined that contamination has not taken place, there may not be an issue, he said. If contamination is found in the soil around the tanks, the owner of the tanks usually has a year, possibly more, to fix the problem.
Planning Board Finds Continued Non-Compliance With Conditions For Special Permit
It is unusual for a Planning Board meeting to have much of an atmosphere, but last Thursday evening’s site walk of George Pergantis’s 128 Main Street multi-use site was an exception. None of the board, nor Land Use Director and Planner Michelle Collette, was pleased with the lack of progress on a long “Must Do” list, but the atmosphere was more funereal than angry or impatient. Word of the two newly-discoverd underground storage tanks on the property had traveled quickly, and the people on the site walk were well aware of the potential complexity and expense of resolving it.
As a group and individually, Planning Board members have encouraged, coached, explained, and prodded for two years, trying to get the owner of the old Groton Inn to comply with the list of conditions attached to a special permit. Pergantis needs the special permit approval before he can get an occupancy permit from the town. And the occupancy permit is required so he can open the “Carriage House Seafood Grill and Restaurant” in a garage-turned-function-hall-restaurant on his property.
When the board walked the site, they found only a few items on its list of conditions that Pergantis has completed. About two dozen remain, including items from the Fire Department, the Board of Health, the Building Department, the Conservation Commission, and the Planning Board. The four Planning Board members who walked the site and then discussed the results — Russell Burke, Chair John Giger, Tim Svarczkopf, and Scott Wilson — voted unanimously to certify their interim progress report and pass it to the stakeholder boards and the Board of Selectmen. The special permit and its list of conditions can stay in effect for years.
Based on Pergantis’s continued lack of progress on the list of requirements, the Board of Selectmen voted on July 29 to deny a liquor license to his “Carriage House Seafood Grill and Restaurant.”
Whether and how Pergantis would deal with the tanks was on the minds of the Planning Board members at the site walk, although their body isn’t directly involved with the problem; some Planning Board members predicted that the tanks may turn into a permanent roadblock on the way to opening his restaurant, an obstacle that Pergantis may not overcome.
Coletta pointed out that when tanks of pre-WW II vintage are encountered, they often turn out to be over-engineered and extremely sturdy, so it is possible that there is no environmental problem.
Shute said the size of the two tanks hasn’t been determined. “It’s bigger than the standard 275 gallon, so I’m guessing it’ll be closer to 500 gallons, but that’s totally a guess. We have no clues on what they are,” he said.
The tank’s sudden appearance made them leap to the top of the list of problems Pergantis must do to get an occupancy permit and open his planned restaurant. Dealing with them may also be the final straw that prevents the restaurant from happening. Because of a price tag that could cost $100,000 or more, according to sources speaking informally, removing the tanks may push the price tag of Pergantis’s project too high to complete.
A former owner of the old Groton Inn, Pat Frazer, thought the tanks may be as old as the garage, which was built in 1913-14 to service Groton Inn guest’s automobiles. She said the garage had been used to service vehicles until World War II, when gasoline rationing put an end to excursions to the inn by car, and closed the garage. This matches information published by Virginia May, who prepared the application to include the old Groton Inn on the National Register of Historic Places.
Neither Frazer, Groton Fire Department officers, nor any town hall officials had any information on what the tanks may have been used for, but guesses focused on waste oil, or possible gasoline or fresh oil used to service the cars.
Friday evening, Pergantis said he was still gathering information about the tanks and hadn’t decided what to do about this latest problem. Last month, Pergantis signed a purchase and sale agreement with a group of investors to sell his 8.5 acre tract as the site for a new Groton Inn and condominiums, but the sale is conditional on the investors winning town approval for their plan and meeting all town permitting requirements. The discovery of the tanks and the problems associated with their removal, whether or not Pergantis decides to remove them, throw a wild card into the deal.