The Lake County Board of Commissioners heard the first arguments for and against a proposed cartway north of the unincorporated community of Cramer on Crooked Lake.
A cartway is a public road that grants access to a tract of land that has no land access except over water or whose access is less than 33 feet wide.
According to Minnesota statute, the property must contain more than 2 acres, but less than 5, and must be a separate parcel as of January 1998. A town board would usually determine the establishment of a cartway, but because the parcel is in an unorganized territory, the commissioners must step in and act as the board.
Lawyers for the two parties laid out the facts of the case to the board Tuesday, July 9. The property requesting the easement sits at the end of Crooked Lake Road, a private, or non-public, road owned by David Leroy Christenson Jr. He is requesting that Crooked Lake Road be established as a cartway, allowing him access to his property.
Crooked Lake Road crosses 4 parcels from Minnesota Highway 7 to the Christenson house, owned by the objectors of the cartway: Susan and Joseph Rian, Jan and Laurie Veihman, Coy and Marilyn Simms and Patty Schumacher.
The parcels were established in the 1920s and have remained owned by most of the families involved in the case since roughly the 1940s. Up until recently, most of the homes along the road have been mostly used as cabins. The main point of contention between the neighbors arose around 2016 with the Christensons moved into the cabin full time.
"This spring, there was a disagreement about whether or not my clients are allowed to use the road," said Tyson Smith, lawyer for the Christensons. "The long story short is that they (the neighbors) plowed a snowbank in front of the road so that my clients couldn’t get to the house. We said, this isn’t going to work. We have to go to court."
There is a pending civil court case between the Christensons and their neighbors regarding the issue of easements and access. The parties involved are scheduled for a mediation session later in July.
The neighbors argue that since the Christensons moved into the home full time, the condition of the road has deteriorated. Until now, the maintenance of the road has been handled by the property owners, but it was also primarily used in the summer.
"It’s not technically a road; it’s a path through the woods. It was never designed for that much travel, ever," Joseph Rian said. "The cost to make that road actually usable year-round, it just doesn't make sense to me. it would require constant maintenance."
The neighbors object to the cartway petition also on the basis that the road passes too closely between the various structures lining the current road. If the road was turned into a cartway and reconstructed to make it 33 feet wide, it would require removing multiple structures, Kelly Klun, the neighbors' lawyer, argued.
"I ask the county board to come out and take a look at this," Klun said. "If you come out and look at the structures, it'll be quite obvious to you that they've had these structures on the property here for 80 years."
The board has the option of granting an alternative route for the cartway. Those opposing the cartway have requested the board look at granting a cartway that crosses more to the north of the parcels instead of through the buildings. Smith argues this route would carry an undue price tag and may cross wetlands.
Another proposed alternate would connect the parcel to Hoist Lake Road from the north. A problem with this route is that the land to the north is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and would require special use permits.
The county board agreed to visit the site July 30 before resuming the hearing. The hearing was recessed, but not before Christenson got in a final word about the issue.
"My family has also helped maintain that road since the '40s," he said. "We’ve helped with hauling in dirt over the years. We’ve contributed $1,000 to the gravel costs that they brought in; however, they chose to not accept our check and returned it to us. I’ve also plowed the driveway all last winter.
"I'm not going to sit here and slander them, but we have done our share," Christenson said.