Erie County Judge Shad Connelly charged the owner of Moon Meadows Campground near Erie, Pa., with civil contempt Wednesday (July 28) and sent him to the Erie County Prison.
Connelly told Thomas Peckham that he will remain in prison until all tenants leave his Greenfield Township campground or he fixes its sewage system, said Doug Range, director of environmental health for the Erie County Department of Health, the Erie Times-News reported.
“If they decide to vacate the property, it must truly be vacant,” said Range, who attended the hearing. “People can’t be staying there during the day and just sleeping somewhere else at night.”
Peckham’s incarceration is the latest development in his 13-month battle with county health and law-enforcement officials.
He has consistently refused to make improvements to the campground’s sewage system after a county health inspector found puddles of raw sewage and substandard septic work done without a permit in June 2009.
Peckham has said there were no puddles of raw sewage, and that he never needed permits to do septic work before 2009.
Connelly had ordered the campground closed by Tuesday if the improvements weren’t made.
Five Erie County Sheriff’s Office deputies went to Moon Meadows on Tuesday to tell Peckham that the judge wanted to talk with him. They waited two hours for Peckham to show, but he never did.
Peckham later said he avoided the campground because he knew the deputies were there to arrest him “and make a big show of it.”
He turned himself in to authorities Wednesday morning.
At the hearing in Connelly’s courtroom, county Health Department officials testified that the campground still was not in compliance with the Pennsylvania Sewage Facility Act, Range said.
“We received a call from the property’s manager, Bonnie (Jenkins), asking what she needs to do to vacate the campground,” Range said.
Range told her what needed to happen, and Jenkins then passed word to some of the Moon Meadows residents.
“The longer everyone stays here, the longer Tom will stay in jail,” Jenkins told people as they sat outside the campground’s store, 9915 Station Road.
Some residents said they were moving out Wednesday, even if they didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Linda Bayhurst has lived in a Moon Meadows cabin for almost a year with her two grown daughters. She plans to drive them to work during the day, then find a spot to park their recently fixed 1998 Saturn at night.
“I’ve been in the situation before,” Bayhurst’s daughter Lisa Decenso said. “We’ll just shift around until we find a nice and quiet place, pull over and sleep in the car.”
Doug Naugle planned to park his recreational vehicle in someone’s cow pasture Wednesday night.
He called other campgrounds this week to see if he could park his RV there, but he said he keeps getting a runaround
“Right now, I’m leaving to get Tom out of jail,” Naugle said. “And once the campground is reopened, I’ll be back.”
Range said no one called the Health Department on Wednesday to find out how to fix the campground’s sewage system.