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Mondale, river group rises to oppose shoreland case

A former U.S. vice president and an influential environmental group waded in to oppose a U.S. Supreme Court case seeking to change development rules for a small parcel of land on the St. Croix River in the town of Troy.

Attorneys for Walter Mondale and the St. Croix River Association (SCRA) filed an amicus brief last week with U.S. Supreme Court seeking to reject the case involving the Murr family, which owns St. Croix River shoreland land in the St. Croix Cove subdivision.

The Murrs petitioned the high court to reverse a lower court’s ruling prohibiting them from selling off a parcel of riverside land that was merged by St. Croix County with an adjoining parcel the family owns. The Murrs want the county zoning law changed so they can sell off the parcel as the investment for which it was originally purchased.

The parcels were merged under a 1970s county land-use regulation governing “substandard” properties that the family claims represents a government “taking” of the property.

Mondale and the SCRA argue that changing development rules would undermine efforts that got the St. Croix River designated as part of the Wild and Scenic River Act by the federal government. As a U.S. senator, Mondale was a key figure in getting the act passed by Congress and applying its designation to the St. Croix.

The group’s argument, which cites 19th-century prose in illustrating the river’s attributes, tells the court that the waterway’s “political legitimacy” is buoyed in the state and local laws that carry out the federal protections.

The group notes in the brief that it was local property owners who mustered the protections granted in the Wild and Scenic River Act.

“In this instance,” the brief states, “the state of Wisconsin enacted its own law, setting standards for the use of land along the Wild and Scenic St. Croix River; counties and towns are then obligated to regulate land use at the local level in accord with state requirements.”

That, the group argues, represents the wishes — and policies — of St. Croix County residents and offers protections that have led to lot-size standards “to ensure that development in certain areas does not change the character of the setting and to prevent additional impacts as seen from the river.”

The brief filed by the opposition group says in part that “high quality and widely enjoyed recreation can motivate an increase in private development to capture higher property values, which, in turn, will destroy the values of the river that attract people to it in the first place.”

The brief later adds: “Based on the purposes under the (Wild and Scenic River) Act, and the reality that the vast majority of users of the St. Croix River do not own property on it, it is entirely consistent with the recreation value of the river to reasonably limit private development.”

Mondale and the river association aren’t the only ones wading into the case.

The Pacific Legal Group, which is representing the Murrs in the case, released a list of supporters, including nine states, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, national real estate organizations and several public policy foundations.

Pacific Legal Group attorney John Groen did not return a call seeking comment on the amicus brief.

The case is set to be argued in October.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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