WHIPHOLT, Minn. – As Minnesota gears up for cabin season, this placid vacation community some 200 miles northwest of the Twin Cities finds itself embroiled in a testy dispute between a St. Cloud businessman and a former reality TV star from Wayzata.
Turns out that amid the more than 111,000 acres of Leech Lake, there's not room for both of them to put in their docks.
At least, not in a way they can agree on.
With neighborly feelings already in short supply, the dock dispute has brought tensions to a new level.
"I have been through the wringer with this guy," Shauna Raisch said. "I've never been bullied in my life before. It feels really bad."
Raisch, a Wayzata salon owner who appeared a decade ago on the reality show "Millionaire Matchmaker," is being sued by her neighbors, Eric and Connie Netter. The Netters, owners of a St. Cloud electric business, allege in a suit filed in Cass County District Court that she installed her dock in a way that functions as a "barricade" and a "spite fence," preventing other residents from getting their docks and boat lifts in the lake.
"It has never been a friendly situation," Connie Netter said this week. "We're trying to make it work so that everyone who has a right to be on the lake can get on the lake and enjoy it."
The issue stems from the way the tiny community is laid out. Some homes are on the lakeshore, while others are on the landward side of a road that runs just behind the lakefront cabins. Property owners on both sides of the road, however, have the right, through a covenant agreement, to use a single unoccupied shoreline lot for shared lake access.
Problem is, there are a lot of people trying to use that single lot. Docks, boats and lifts are bigger than they used to be, and fitting everyone in is something like putting together a puzzle.
Befitting an engineer, Eric Netter diagramed a dockage plan for the shoreline lot, spent $18,000 on new dock components and got all the property owners to agree to it.
Except for Raisch.
She said Netter's plan would encroach on 28 of her 38 feet of shoreline and push her own dock onto another neighbor's property.
Raisch said she had a professional dock company draw up a half-dozen alternative plans, but she said Netter refused to consider them.
When spring rolled around, the dock duel broke out.
According to court documents, Eric Netter hired a dock service company to install the new dock system on the shared lot. When the installers showed up, occupants of Raisch's cabin blocked the steps leading to the lake.
Meanwhile, Raisch's people "scrambled" to begin installing her dock, doing so in a way that "intentionally encroached" on the space needed to install the dock serving the larger group of cabin owners, according to court documents.
"It was clear that this matter was becoming a race to see who could get their docks in first, in an effort to 'stake out' territory," the Netters said in a legal brief.
Raisch said that's not what happened. "We weren't blocking him," she said. "We were protecting our own right to put our dock in without covering our shoreline.
"We put our dock in and our boat and our Jet Skis exactly the way we did it for 20 years," she said. "I don't know how you call that a spite fence."
Connie Netter said the property covenant specifically allows dockage from the shared lot to extend onto Raisch's property. She suggested that Raisch's dock takes up more space than is really necessary.
"You saw Shauna's setup," she said. "Does that look like it's set up for boat mooring?
"We're trying to be equitable and go by the all the covenants that were in place, that we all knew about when we bought the property."
The Netters have 13 grandchildren and nobody wants a lingering dispute, Connie Netter said.
"People want to enjoy their vacation, and they're entitled to a nice vacation with their family," she said. "And that's what we're looking for."
Raisch expressed similar sentiments.
"I am a person who likes to make things work and figure things out," she said. "When it's your Minnesota lake space, your recreational space, it's really hard."
The Netters are seeking a court order enforcing their preferred dock setup. It's the only way they can uphold the covenant, Connie Netter said.
"The situation is not gonna be resolved without somebody saying, 'This is how we're gonna do it,' " she said.
"Everybody deserves access to the lake," she added. "Gosh darn it, move over! Let them enjoy it!"