The rural Minnesota family who lost the gravel road to its home will get it back.
In a ruling handed down Thursday, a Kanabec County judge blasted a local township board, calling its actions "unreasonable and absurd" in leaving Renee and Andy Crisman at the mercy of a neighbor who doesn't like them.
"Not maintaining Hornet Street would leave the Crismans at the will of a neighbor who has gone out of his way to make it hard for the Crismans to access their home like any other town resident," District Judge Stoney Hiljus wrote.
In 2017, the Crismans bought property in Hillman Township outside Mora, Minn., and built a home there. Their land at the end of Hornet Street had been unoccupied for several years, and while the land was unoccupied, the town hadn't been maintaining or plowing the last stretch of the half-mile gravel road. Instead, it maintained only the first quarter-mile of the road.
When the Crismans asked the town to resume maintenance of the final quarter-mile leading to their home, residents voted it down. Even after the Crismans spent tens of thousands of dollars to repair the road and build a turnaround for the school bus, the township refused to maintain it.
Earlier this year, the township declared that the final stretch of road leading to the Crismans' home had ceased to exist and the land was now the property of their neighbor. Township records showed that the last quarter-mile of Hornet Street hadn't been maintained in more than 40 years, the board said, and under state law, the land under the road must revert to the owner of the property it runs on.
In the judge's ruling, he wrote that Minnesota law on township roads doesn't allow a township to ignore maintenance on just a portion of a road.
"Not maintaining just the last quarter mile knowing that a family is living on the property is unreasonable and cannot be what the legislative scheme anticipated," Hiljus wrote. "Nowhere in [state law] does it state that an electorate may vote to discontinue maintenance of only a portion of a road."
Hiljus also wrote that the township is putting the Crisman family in danger by not maintaining the road, as emergency vehicles may not be able to get to their home.
Renee Crisman said the family is "extremely grateful" for the ruling but fears the township will continue to fight to keep the road closed. She said her family was heartened by the support they received over the issue.
"The community of Hillman Township, Kanabec County and Mora area are full of kind people and in no way does this struggle reflect on them," she said.
"We just want to be treated fairly, like everyone else. We have made many new friends and met many great neighbors through this entire ordeal," she said. "We just wish the board would bring peace to this situation, now that they have been given a path to do so."
Members of the Hillman Township board did not return messages seeking comment.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402