Rancher in contempt for camping

Deschutes River property neighbor argues site not zoned as a campground

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A Thurston County Superior Court judge found Deschutes River Ranch owner Jon Pettit in contempt of court Friday, fining him $1,500 for allowing overnight camping on his property for three days in August in violation of a prior court order.

Pettit allowed free overnight camping at his 28-acre property Aug. 10-12 during the Thurston County Summer's End Music and Comedy Festival. An injunction was in place prohibiting overnight camping there until litigation between Pettit and the county was resolved.

Pettit did not deny allowing camping during Friday's brief court hearing. He also presented Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham with a written statement asserting his conviction that he is following God's will by allowing camping.

"The decision as to whose orders to follow, the court's or God's, was easy," reads part of the statement. "I live my life in service to God. I must therefore follow his directive, even if I do not understand why I am directed to do something."

Pettit's property has multiple campsites with picnic tables, fire pits and six portable bathrooms. On good-weather weekends, 200 to 400 people visit, Pettit has said.

Pettit said after Friday's hearing that he'll "eventually" pay the fine. He also said he plans to continue to allow camping next year.

"The anticipation is, next year things will continue as they have in the past," Pettit said.

Wickham said he was concerned that Pettit ignored the injunction.

"This court is not intending to damage you financially, or in any other way, but is merely trying to get you to comply with the previous court order," he said.

The county has said Pettit needs a special-use permit to operate a campground on his property. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rick Peters, who represented the county Friday, said Pettit has never done so.

"I'd love nothing better than for him to apply for and get the permit," Peters said. The prosecutor's office is no more or less invested in county's case against Pettit than it is with any other county zoning enforcement issue, he said.

The county took action against Pettit in response to citizen complaint, Peters said.

In a declaration that's part of the court's record, neighbor David Rayment said he has been observing Pettit's property since mid-July 2011. He adds that he's unhappy "significant camping" is occurring on property that isn't zoned for it.

"I have made numerous complaints to Thurston County about this activity," he wrote.

Peters said the impacts of having so many people camp on Pettit's property need to be examined through the permitting process. He added that the county will continue to monitor the issue.