The owner of a junkyard at the intersection of Route 322 and Deep Hollow Road in Cranberry Township has been found in contempt of Commonwealth Court for failing to heed an order to remove all vehicles and other items from the site.
The order is tied to a directive filed more than a year ago by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Randy Spencer, a township resident whose collection of vehicles was cited as being instrumental in causing devastating damages to the roadways in a July 2019 flash flood, has until April 6 to remove the materials or face arrest and sentencing.
It prompted litigation to be filed against Spencer by the DEP, PennDOT and Cranberry Township.
Few, if any, of the materials have been removed from the intersection since Spencer was ordered to do so more than a year ago.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge J. Andrew Crompton said last week that Spencer was in contempt of the court’s Jan. 22, 2020, order to clean out his vehicles, a collection that included campers, trailers and more, from the location.
In several earlier proceedings, Spencer had asked the DEP and the court for more time to comply with the order.
In the latest ruling, Spencer asserted that “his failure to comply is hampered by PennDOT and Cranberry Township and the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted the court papers.
“Mr. Spencer offered to evidence as to why he could not begin removing the vehicles, campers and debris in the floodway after May 2020,” wrote Crompton. “His claims regarding obstacles posed by PennDOT and Cranberry Township were not well-developed and were not supported by any evidence.”
Unless Spencer fully complies with the order to remove all materials “within 45 days” of the ruling, he will be required to appear before Commonwealth Court and be sentenced on the civil contempt charge. His absence in court may result in a bench warrant for his arrest, noted Crompton.
Continuance motions filed
The DEP action against Spencer, who owns two properties at the intersection for the storage of junkyard materials, began Sept. 20, 2019, shortly after the flood.
The DEP issued an administrative order, one that pertained to violations of the Clean Streams Law, Dam Safety and Encroachment Act and related regulations, that directed Spencer to cease and desist the placing of items in the floodway and remove what materials were there.
Spencer sought additional time to comply, arguing in one instance that the “governor’s March 17, 2020, stay-at-home order in response to the pandemic halted his efforts.”
He also claimed he had “medical issues” and later challenged the department’s definition of “floodway.” More motions for continuance were filed.
However, the court disagreed with his assertions and issued its ruling last week.
“We conclude that Mr. Spencer’s failure to abide by the court’s Jan. 22, 2020, order was volitional and that he acted with wrongful intent by failing to comply with the order,” wrote the judge.
If Spencer does not comply and remove the junkyard materials, he is ordered to appear in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg on April 6 to be sentenced on a contempt charge. Failure to appear will result in a bench warrant for his arrest. He could face jail and fines.
Other actions filed
Cranberry Township filed a request for an emergency injunction against Spencer shortly after the 2019 summer flood. The injunction, filed in Venango County Court, was directed at forcing Spencer to stop adding vehicles to the intersection and to remove what items were there.
The injunction was granted but Spencer appealed the decision. A series of motions for continuance and the temporary shutdown of the court system due to the COVID pandemic has stymied any decision.
Township manager Chad Findlay said he recently learned that a hearing may be held March 23 in county court on the injunction issue.
The township has also filed four complaints against Spencer for violating sections of the township code. The complaints are directed at “the storage or accumulation of more than one abandoned or junked motor vehicle seen from a public road.”
Those charges were filed with District Judge Patrick Lowrey.
PennDOT, meanwhile, has asked Commonwealth Court to enforce an agreement it struck with Spencer in December 2019. Spencer was ordered by PennDOT, the agency that originally issued junkyard permits in 1994 to Spencer for the Deep Hollow location, to remove the materials and “cease junkyard activities” there.
Spencer was given until June 2020 to remove the vehicles. When the owner failed to meet the deadline, PennDOT took the issue to court to force compliance.
No decision has been issued to date on the filing.