Published August 10, 2012
Deschutes River Ranch owner may be fined for weekend festivalCHELSEA KROTZER
The owner of Deschutes River Ranch could be fined for allowing overnight camping on his property during this weekend’s Thurston County Summer’s End Music and Comedy Festival. Jon Pettit appeared Friday before Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham for an injunction hearing. A judge issued a court order prohibiting overnight camping on the property until litigation between Pettit and the county has been resolved. Pettit, who owns the 28-acre property along the river, has allowed the public to camp and gather there for free. The property has multiple campsites with picnic tables, fire pits and six portable bathrooms. On good-weather weekends, 200 to 400 people visit the property, Pettit said. This weekend’s festival could bring in an estimated 300 people each day. The county says Pettit needs a special-use permit to operate a campground on his property. Pettit has not applied for any permits. The county placed a stop-work order on the property July 2, which Pettit responded to with a $3.8 million claim for damages. The county rejected that claim July 26. The county sued Pettit, who appeared Friday before Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham. Pettit told Wickham he does not think his property is a “commercial campsite” as stated in the stop-work order. He said he has had no issues with law enforcement or emergency services since he opened the property to the public in 2010. “We have a history of years of no problems,” Pettit said. “If there is a question of if people are my friends or family using the facility, anyone that enjoys the benefit of the river, the ranch and the fields to play in – I consider these people to be my friends.” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Rick Peters, representing the county, said the property is zoned as residential, and that the issue isn’t just about Pettit’s property rights. “There is high impact on the property based on the amount of people (Pettit) admits are using the property,” Peters said. “Those impacts have not been examined, and we have to take these things into account. “The property is on a shoreline; it affects neighbors and anyone downstream of the site itself.” After more than an hour of discussion, Wickham issued a preliminary injunction against Pettit, pending resolution of the issue. “I haven’t heard anything from you that would show me that the county might not be likely to prevail on this issue,” Wickham told Pettit. “You certainly have a right to argue this at trial, but the way it looks this morning, the county is likely to prevail on this issue.” The judge signed an injunction saying no “overnight public camping” is allowed on the property. Pettit requested that the definition of “public” be clearly defined in the complaint. “At this stage, I would urge you to use common sense,” Wickham said. “I’ve been exposed to this issue for an hour and a half; I expect you have an idea who the public” might be. Pettit said he doesn’t think the court order will affect this weekend’s festival, which has advertised overnight camping. The county has “accepted the events this weekend” are going to happen “as listed on the advertisement,” he said. Peters said any overnight camping, including during the festival, likely would trigger a fine. “All we want is compliance,” he said. “We are not looking to be draconian; we are just seeking compliance with our codes.” Beyond this weekend, Pettit said he plans on having a log book available for those who use the property. “The people choosing to stay here, my friends, I’m going to have them sign a piece of paper acknowledging they are my friend so there is no question I am allowing just the general public,” Pettit said.