Rep. Erik Mortensen. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Legislature
Minnesota Legislature

State official violates cease and desist order in Poplar Lake land dispute

A member of the Minnesota House of Representatives violated a cease and desist order from the Cook County Land Services Department this summer as they did not want their noncompliant structure to rot over the winter.

Those were among the sentiments shared by Kari Mortensen, the wife of Republican freshman state Rep. Erik Mortensen, during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Adjustment Wednesday, Oct. 20.

Among the agenda items during the lengthy meeting was a land issue involving Rep. Mortensen, of Shakopee. Mortensen purchased a seasonal cabin in Cook County in October 2020. The property is located on the far east end of Poplar Lake near the Gunflint Trail.

According to the land services department, Mortensen failed to obtain the necessary permits to build a new structure on his property near the lakeshore.

According to Land Services Director Tim Nelson, at some point this summer “construction started on what has been referred to as a shed, or a bunkhouse, on their property, and they were issued a cease and desist order from further construction since the placement of that structure is in violation of the setback distances to Poplar Lake.”

Nelson said in an email sent to WTIP that Mortensen and his wife, Kari, were “under the impression that no permit would be necessary due to the initial size of the structure being under the 160-square-foot exemption for permits, and stated that they were unaware that the structure would still have to adhere to the appropriate setback distances.”

Kari Mortensen presented her case to the Board of Adjustment Wednesday night during the public meeting. The tone of her conversation with the board was occasionally tense as she explained why the couple violated both the zoning ordinance and the cease and desist order. Kari Mortensen explained that they waited for three months after the cease and desist order was issued before proceeding with construction of the project. She said her husband was having hip surgery this fall and they wanted to complete the project before his surgery, though they were not authorized to do so.

At least one complaint over the Mortensen’s structure was issued to the Cook County Land Services Department from another property owner on Poplar Lake. Lake County resident Dan Schutte owns a nearby cabin on Poplar. Schutte is the former district manager Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District based in Two Harbors. He submitted a lengthy commentary about the Mortensen property and spoke during Wednesday’s board of adjustment meeting. In addition to being out of compliance with the county ordinance, Schutte said he believes violating a cease and desist order could be a misdemeanor crime. WTIP is waiting for a response from the Cook County Attorney’s Office regarding the possible consequences of violating a cease and desist order.

After discussing the land use violation at length, the board of adjustment voted to table the issue in order to provide the Mortensens the opportunity to provide the information needed to demonstrate that the structure cannot be placed elsewhere on the property without a variance, according to Nelson.

The issue will likely be revisited before the end of 2021, according to the Cook County Land Services Department.

Jerry Hiniker is the chairperson for the local board of adjustment. Below is audio from part of his exchange with Kari Mortensen during the Oct. 20 meeting.