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U.S. Supreme Court to hear town of Troy case in March

The family embroiled in a St. Croix County land dispute will present its case next month to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the Murr family, which owns a small riverside parcel in the town of Troy, will make oral arguments March 20 to the high court.

"My entire family is so excited to hear the news that our case is scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court," said Donna Murr, one of six siblings who share ownership of the land at the center of the legal debate.

They own two parcels of land in the St. Croix Cove subdivision: one containing the family cabin, the other a vacant strip of land they had hoped to sell to pay for upgrades to the cabin.

The family was blocked from selling that second parcel because ownership of both parcels merged them into one under local land-use regulations, prohibiting them from splitting either off and selling it as developable property.

"That kind of put the kibosh on our plans to fix up the cabin," Murr said last week.

That prompted a legal battle, under which the Murrs and their legal team argue the conjoining of the lots represents a governmental "taking" of the property.

John Groen, who will be making the oral argument to the Supreme Court, said he hopes that a favorable ruling by the high court will send a message to the government.

"The government's going to have to treat these pieces of property for just what they are: valuable, independent parcels that people have bought and relied on," he said last week.

Groen works for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a watchdog organization specializing in Fifth Amendment cases.

Legal wranglings brought the case from St. Croix County Circuit Court to an appeals court to, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in January 2016.

Groen said his firm is glad a ninth Supreme Court justice has been nominated — President Donald Trump tapped Neil Gorsuch for the lifetime post — but said the argument won't be shaped by the complexion of the court.

"We argue based on principles, regardless of who the judges are," he said. "If something happened where Gorsuch is not confirmed and someone else stepped in, that doesn't change our argument."

The Murrs have faced hurdles in the case, including arguments from an influential environmental group backed by former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale. That group, the St. Croix River Association, filed a brief in June 2016 seeking to reject the Murrs' case.

The SCRA and Mondale argued in the filing 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.

In a statement, Murr — of Eau Claire — said many members of the extended family will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to watch the arguments.

"We have been patiently waiting for this news for over a year and cannot wait to start making plans for our trip to Washington, D.C.," she said.

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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