If you happened to be in Oak Bluffs on Tuesday and were surprised to see the Steamship Authority terminal building in the process of being flattened, you were not alone. Also surprised, and dismayed, were town officials.

For the SSA did not have the town’s permission to do it. The conservation commission had issued an order permitting the renovation and expansion of the existing structure, not the demolition of it.

And so the town conservation agent promptly issued an enforcement order for the boat line to cease and desist from the work — a Quixotic gesture really, considering the old building was already rubble.

“I had to issue it because under the state Wetlands Protection Act and the town wetlands bylaw, they were in violation,” said Elizabeth Durkee.

Now, in practical terms, the SSA’s heavy-handed approach to its renovation does not matter all that much. But there are matters of principal too.

First, though, the bureaucratic facts.

There exists in the state building code a regulation commonly called the 50 per cent rule. It provides that if you are planning to renovate a building located in a flood zone and that renovation is worth more than 50 per cent of the assessed value of the property, you are required to raise that structure above flood height.

When the town was negotiating with the SSA, it was decided the Oak Bluffs terminal building need not be elevated, because the renovation would not breach the 50 per cent rule.

Clearly, though, demolition breached the 50 per cent rule; hence the town’s dismay and subsequent cease and desist order.

But the boat line, it appears, had not been up front with the town officials about a couple of things. Back in the summer, it went to the state building code appeals board and got a variance from the 50 per cent rule.

The SSA also had a permit from a state building inspector allowing for what was quaintly phrased as selective demolition.

But the town was not made aware of this, and when reached on Wednesday, Carl Walker, the SSA director of engineering, was unapologetic, saying he thought the SSA had been “very public about its plans to modify the building.

“We’re an authority of the state and there’s always been some confusion over who has purview as regards building inspectors,” Mr. Walker said.

“We finally went to the state and asked them to take jurisdiction over all of our projects. So it’s a state building permit. And we did get a variance. That was information the conservation commission did not have,” he said.

He called it a misunderstanding.

And it’s true no wetlands have been negatively impacted. And Oak Bluffs will benefit from the new terminal, with extra, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, an improvement on the old town comfort station nearby.

At a meeting between SSA managers and town leaders yesterday, it was agreed that the boat line will send a letter to the town seeking an amendment to its previous order of conditions and keeping the foundation plan of the building exactly as approved.

There will be a public hearing, and abutters will be notified. And the conservation commission will meet next week to consider the enforcement order.

Then the building process will be allowed to continue, so the boat line can finish its new terminal building on time, by the middle of next April.

All the hassle could have been avoided with a little bureaucratic courtesy from the SSA.