Junkyard cleanup orders still held up in courts

Enforcement measures aimed at ordering a Cranberry Township junkyard owner to clean up debris at the intersection of Route 322 and Deep Hollow Road remain stymied in the courts.

“We’re just waiting,” said Chad Findlay, the Cranberry Township manager. “There was a court backlog because of the COVID virus.”

The delay in carrying out directives from state agencies as well as the township to remove junked cars comes one year after a devastating flash flood resulted in substantial damages to Riverside Drive and Deep Hollow Road, both in Cranberry Township.

The flood sent numerous junkyard materials, including several vehicles, into Lower Two Mile Run along Deep Hollow and eventually through a large pipe culvert and into the Allegheny River.

Damages along Deep Hollow Road were extensive with PennDOT repairs listed at $1.5 million to a stretch of the roadway intersecting with Route 322.

High water pushed vehicles and other materials, stored at the site by Randy Spencer, along the roadway as well as into the creek and river. That spurred litigation to be filed against Spencer by PennDOT, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cranberry Township.

To date, materials haven’t been removed from the junkyard area at the Deep Hollow and Route 322 intersection. That is despite a number of complaints filed against Spencer to clean up the area.

DEP order appealed

The DEP directed Spencer on Sept. 30, 2019, to clear away the vehicles and parts from the intersection within 30 days. In describing the site as “a public nuisance,” the agency said Spencer had also violated the Clean Stream Law.

Spencer appealed the DEP order, and in response, DEP then filed a petition with Commonwealth Court to enforce its original ruling. Spencer appealed that petition, too.

“I can say that Mr. Spencer has not removed the vehicles and debris from the floodway at the property,” said Tom Decker, community relations coordinator for the DEP. “DEP continues to seek enforcement of our administrative order against Mr. Spencer to remove the vehicles and debris.”

Decker said there may be a hearing on the issue before Commonwealth Court this month.

In filing the appeal, Spencer argued the order constituted “an overreach by government” and an attempt to seize his private property.

The PennDOT order

In December, Spencer was ordered by PennDOT, the agency that originally issued junkyard permits in 1994 to Spencer for the Deep Hollow location, Garden Drive and a section of Victory Heights hill, to remove materials and cease “junkyard activities” on property along Route 322 and Deep Hollow Road.

Spencer was also forbidden in the order, which he agreed to, to add any more materials to the site. Spencer was given until early July to remove the materials.

However, the issue was revisited in February when PennDOT was informed by the township that more automotive parts and vehicles had been added to the junkyard at the intersection. In response, PennDOT said it would investigate the reports.

“From our perspective, he had until late June to get all the work done,” said Jill Harry, public relations officer for the PennDOT district office in Oil City. “He did not meet the deadline for (junkyard) screening and removal of the vehicles.”

As a result, PennDOT has taken the issue to Commonwealth Court.

“We are filing legal paperwork to ask the court to enforce the agreement,” said Harry. “This has gone beyond PennDOT and is now in the court system. We are asking him to follow the agreement he had with us.”

Township pursues action

Meanwhile, Cranberry Township is continuing to pursue legal action against Spencer.

Earlier this year, the Venango County court ruled in favor of a request by the township for an emergency injunction. It called for Spencer to remove the stored vehicles and remediate the junkyard site.

Spencer appealed that decision and no further court date has been set to hear his appeal.

“The courts got backed up with the COVID virus and so nothing has been decided yet about the appeal,” said Findlay. “So, we just wait like everyone else.”

In the most recent filing, the township filed four complaints against Spencer on July 22. Each of the complaints, filed by the township’s code enforcement office, is for the “storage or accumulation of more than one abandoned or junked motor vehicle seen from a public road.”

The charges were filed with district judge Patrick Lowrey.