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Auction wraps up; 59 of 60 cabin sites sold

The first auction of state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake has wrapped up, with 59 of the 60 lots sold, no current lessees being involuntarily outbid for their cabins, and the state’s public school endowment fund earning $26,855,416. The crowd here at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, though much smaller than it was earlier, is jubilant. One lot attracted no bids; when it was offered again at the end, it again attracted no bids. The site is at 11 S. Shore Outlet in Priest River; it’s appraised at $200,000, with the improvements and fees at an additional $128,800. On the second offering, the current lessee and cabin owner dropped her asking price for the improvements and fees to $100,000. However, there were still no bids; that site had been dropped from the auction earlier, then added back in at the last minute.

This was the first auction offered for Priest Lake cabin sites; earlier auctions for Payette Lake cabin sites had similar results, with nearly all selling for appraised value to the current lessees. As people filed out tonight, one woman commented, “That was stressful, that's for sure.” Another cabin owner said with a grin, “We're broke, but we feel good.” You can read my full story here at

More Priest Lake cabin sites selling at appraised values, with no competing bids

The auction's back on, and so far, all lots in the final batch at the Priest Lake cabin site auction have been selling for the appraised value to the current lessees. As before, applause and cheers from the crowd are greeting every “Sold” announcement from auctioneer Kent Corbett.

All but one in third batch sell for appraised value; schools’ take up to $20M

All but one of the 15 Priest Lake cabin sites in the third batch have sold for their appraised value; the one exception was the one where competitive bidding pushed the price up $9,000 above the appraisal, but the current lessee ended up the high bidder. All told, the auctions today so far have raised $20,078,812 for Idaho’s public school endowment. There still are 15 sites to go in the final batch, plus one that drew no bids earlier and is being held open for possible bids.

Denny Christenson walked out of the back room where he signed contracts to take ownership of the ground under his family cabin, and said, “It feels good. It’s going to be a while to sink in.” He added, “Twenty-three years as a lessee and having a landlord – now we don’t have a landlord. Now, we have a mortgage.” He chuckled, but said, “It went really smoothly.”

Another lessee who successfully gained ownership of the ground under her family’s cabin said, “We’re just happy to have this over with – and no comment.” Said another, “It’s been a mess for a couple of years.”

Billy Symmes accompanied his beaming mother out of the contract-signing room after finalizing the purchase of the ground under their family cabin, which they’ve had since 1994. “Getting to hold onto the cabin is great – the process, no comment,” he said.

More competitive bidding, but current lessee outbids competitor

The third batch of Priest Lake cabin sites is up now, and the third one, appraised at $630,000 for the lot and $177,600 for the cabin, drew competitive bidding. It went back and forth, finally selling for $639,000 – to the cabin owners, the current lessees. The outcome drew cheers and applause; the lessees said they had no idea who was bidding against them. Relieved, they headed to a back room to sign contracts. So far, others are again selling for their appraised values to the current lessees.

School endowment up to $13.7 million take so far from Priest Lake auction

By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $13,736,604 so far today from the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's including the 14 lots that just came up for auction - all but one of which sold, while the one that attracted no bids is being held open until the end of the day - and the 16 auctioned earlier in the first batch.

There are still two more sets of cabin sites to go on the block today.

First competitive bidding makes an extra $123K for endowment over appraised value

The first competitive bidding of today’s Priest Lake cabin site auction just happened, with a lot appraised at $361,604 the subject of hotly contested bidding between two determined bidders, finally selling for $485,000. There was no applause after this one; just some murmuring. That cabin site, in Coolin, has improvements on it valued at $204,900. It was one of those for which the existing lessee had planned to have someone else bid on the lot and take it over; neither of the two people bidding today was the current lessee. The high bidder will have to pay the current lessee the appraised value for the improvements.

The next few lots all have sold for appraised value.

Then, one at 11 S. Shore Outlet Road, with the lot valued at $200,000, drew no bids. Auctioneer Kent Corbett said that one will remain open for bidding until the end of the day; the final group of cabin sites comes up for bids at 7 p.m. Pacific time.

Auction’s back on; more lots sell for appraised value

And the auction is back on, as sixty state cabin sites on Priest Lake are put on the auction block today at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The first one in the second batch, a $650,000 lot with a cabin on it valued at $582,800, has, like the earlier ones, sold to the existing lessee for the appraised value. The result was greeted with cheers and applause. The white-haired couple with the winning bid was all smiles, exchanging greetings and back-slaps with well-wishers as they left the room to go sign contracts.

The second cabin site, a $480,000 lot with $171,100 worth of improvements on it, had a similar outcome; there were no competing bids.

Legislative panel launches look at how Idaho’s endowment is invested

An interim legislative committee kicked off a series of meetings today to look at how Idaho’s $1.7 billion state endowment is invested; it now generates more than $31 million a year for public schools from earnings both on state lands and investments of the cash in the permanent fund. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert covered the panel’s meeting and has a report here.

School endowment has made $7.5M so far

By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $7,555,000 so far today at the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's the amount that's been bid just for the land; the successful bidders were all the current lessees, so they already own the buildings on the property. But if anyone else gets a high bid, they must pay the current lessee appraised value for the improvements, which in the first batch ranged in value from $45,760 to $1.7 million, on top of the cost of the land.

The first 16 of 60 properties have been auctioned so far; three more groups are still set for auction, at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., all Pacific time.

‘The process has been confusing and frustrating’

Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, has been watching today’s public auction of 60 state-owned lakefront cabin sites with interest. “We’re in the 5 o’clock session,” he said. “I’m encouraged.” When the first batch all went for appraised value, he said, “There were many happy lessees.”

Lessees, who rent the ground under the cabins from the state but build and own the improvements on them, have had “a lot of frustration,” he said, because of the fits and starts of state policy on the sites. All those in the auction today were earlier signed up for land exchanges, but the state Land Board canceled all the exchanges. “The process has been confusing and frustrating,” Christenson said. “It totally changed course at the end of last year, so there was lots of concern that the state would not follow through with the auction.”

Don Morris of Chewelah came to watch the auction today out of curiosity; his Priest Lake cabin is on a deeded site that he owns, so he’s not affected, but he used to own one on a state lease. “I’ve been on the lake since I was 15 years old,” Morris said. He said he was “a little surprised” that there was no competitive bidding on one of the cabin sites in the first batch that only had a $45,000 improvement value, because someone could have picked up the whole thing for less than $400,000. “A lot of the people that have been on the lake forever don’t want people to lose their places,” he said. “I kinda thought there might be more investors come in and try to snag some of these properties.” The real-estate company, Corbett Bottles, handling the auction “certainly did a good job” advertising it, Morris said.

When he bought his cabin in state leased land in 1972, it had a 99-year lease and the rent was $100 a year. That soon changed; the lease term dropped to 10 years, and the rent started going up. “I could just see that the price was going to get too much,” Morris said, so when he had a chance to buy a cabin on land he could own outright instead, he did it. Asked if it was worth the drive to watch the auction today, Morris said, “As soon as it’s done, I’m going to the lake.”

Relief, ‘tears of joy’ among Priest Lake cabin-site lessees…

Sixteen of the sixty Priest Lake cabin sites on the auction block today have now sold for their appraised value to the existing lessees, with no one bidding against them. There’s a lot of relief in the big ballroom, where, during the break before the next set of auctions in just over an hour, people are exchanging hugs. Among the comments in the crowd: “Congratulations – we are so happy for you! I saw your tears of joy.” “I know my gut’s been churning, and I’m not even in this round.” “There’s a little pressure in this room – can you imagine anyone bidding against this room?” “Taxes will be cheaper than the lease.”

Patrick Hodges, deputy director of the state Department of Lands, said, “I think it’s going well. It doesn’t surprise me that everything’s going for appraised value.” A lawsuit from a group of cabin-site lessees challenging the appraisals as too high is set for a court hearing tomorrow, seeking reconsideration of a judge’s earlier rejection of their bid to prevent the newest appraisals from being used for auctions or to set rents, but all those participating in today’s auction have signed papers agreeing to accept their current appraisals, so they aren’t affected by the outcome of that case.

First dozen-plus Priest Lake sites all sell at appraised prices

The first dozen-plus Priest Lake cabin sites to be auctioned today all have sold for the appraised value to the existing lessee, with no one else bidding. Each time, when the auctioneer, Kent Corbett, declared, “Sold!,” the crowd, which now includes lots of people standing up in back and along the sides along with hundreds seated in rows, erupted into cheers and applause – and occasionally whistles and shouts, too.

Corbett noted that the auction is moving along quickly. Slides of the cabin sites, the homes and their views of the lake are being projected on large screens up front during the bidding. “Folks, we’re not talking a whole lot about the properties because they’re all beautiful properties on Priest Lake and you’re all prepared, if you’re a serious bidder, you’re prepared to bid today,” the auctioneer said in his quick patter.

The most expensive lot sold so far was $665,000; the least expensive, $200,000. That $200,000 one was the site where Steve Hubbs has had his cabin for the past 15 years. As he was led to a waiting area to sign contracts, Hubbs said, “I don’t have any complaints. No one’s over-bid on any of ‘em, you notice?” He added, “I didn’t expect anyone to.”

The first batch of auctions wrapped up in just 25 minutes; the next batch is up at 3 p.m. Pacific time.

First two cabin sites sell to lessees at appraised value; cheers, applause follow

The first cabin site to come up for auction, on Cavanaugh Bay Road in Coolin, was appraised at $430,000. A bid was entered for that amount – and though the auctioneer repeatedly asked for a bid of $435,000, and then for $431,000, no one else bid. The lot sold to the first bidder, prompting a big burst of cheers and applause from the crowd – it went to the existing lessee.

The same happened with the second site, which sold for the appraised value, $485,000.

Number of cabin sites back up to 60

There are close to 250 people gathered in a ballroom at the Coeur d'Alene Resort now for the Priest Lake cabin-site auction, and state Lands Department deputy director Patrick Hodges says the number of sites on the auction block has jumped back up to 60, after one that had dropped out as of two days ago opted back in.

Some bidders have filed to bid on more than one property, the auctioneer has told the crowd. “Do not bid unless you are prepared to bid,” he said. “We’re bidding for land only. … The amount will be due in full today.”

People filtering in at CdA Resort for Priest Lake cabin-site auction…

People are filtering in to the Coeur d’Alene Resort ballroom where today’s auction of 59 cabin sites at Priest Lake is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Pacific time. Steven Hubbs, 68, who’s here to bid for the ground under the lakefront cabin he’s had for the last 15 years, is among the bidders looking through a thick packet of information on the various cabin sites. Asked what he thinks of the process, Hubbs, who lives in California, said, “It seems fair. I think a lot of the older people that have owned cabins on the lake for a long time, I think they’re at a disadvantage – I don’t think they’re being treated fairly. But for people who bought recently, I think it’s fair.”

I’ve spoken with several other cabin-site lessees who weren’t willing to talk on the record, and are visibly angry over the process. The starting price for the lots, which is set at the appraised value, ranges from $200,000 to $665,000. If someone other than the existing lessee gets the high bid, that person would also have to pay the existing lessee appraised value for the improvements on the land, including the cabin.

The growing crowd here includes some who are here just to watch, including some who also have Priest Lake cabins on state ground but aren't up for auction today.

Panel: No more ed-tech pilot grants, move focus statewide

Two years in, it’s time to scrap the state’s $3 million-a-year technology pilot project program in schools, a subcommittee of the State Board of Education has decided. “They felt like the pilot phase had been useful,” state board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said, “but it was time to take the lessons learned.” Idaho Education News reports that the panel recommended that the $3 million be rolled into statewide programs in the future, rather than given in grants to a small number of schools. The 26 pilot tech programs around the state wouldn’t be affected by the move; their funding already is in hand. Kevin Richert of Idaho EdNews has a full report here.

Federal lands interim committee adds seventh public hearing next month

The Federal Lands Interim Committee, a joint legislative interim committee co-chaired by Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has scheduled a seventh public hearing, this one in Sandpoint on Sept. 12. That’s in addition to the six already scheduled over the next two months, including Sept. 11 in Kamiah and St. Maries; Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls and Soda Springs; and Oct 10 in Twin Falls and Hailey.

The move already has prompted a “jeer” from the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page that Denney “just happens to be making a series of statewide swings at taxpayer expense, right in the middle of campaign season, including stops next month in Kamiah and St. Maries.” Denney, former speaker of the House and current House resources chairman, is running for Idaho Secretary of State; he faces Democrat Holli Woodings in the November election.

Denney said, “We thought that it was important that the people have their say in what they think about the state taking over title to the federal lands. And that was certainly always the plan – last year was to be fact-finding, this year was more public hearing.”

Winder, Denney’s co-chairman, said, “We have to report back to the 2015 session. So in trying to coordinate schedules, it was very difficult to get anybody to where we could get like two days together, actually going back to July or August.” Denney said the pre-election timing “wasn’t my choice,” saying, “I would like to have started way earlier, because it’s going to take time away from me right when I think I need it most in the campaign. … I think it was just logistics.”

Asked why the panel is heading to small towns like Soda Springs, Kamiah and St. Maries, Denney said, “A lot of the people who want to come and testify are from these more rural areas, and why make them travel? … They always have to travel.”

Winder said the Sandpoint session was added at the request of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said her constituents “felt like it was too far to go to St. Maries to testify.”

The panel is charged, during its two years, to “undertake and complete a study of the process for the state of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government.” It’s already spent more than $41,000 on legal fees to Bill Myers, a Boise attorney and former solicitor general for the Department of the Interior, whom it hired to advise it.  

Winder said, “We’re already pretty confident that from a legal perspective, we don’t stand on very firm ground if it were a matter of litigating. But we do think there are alternatives available to us in existing laws and potential for congressional changes in how the states interact with the federal agencies that manage public lands. … We think it’s worth the effort.”

Bond issue falls short in Idaho’s largest school district

Voters in Idaho’s largest school district – West Ada, formerly known as the Meridian district – have narrowly failed to pass a $105 million bond issue, which fell short in yesterday’s election though 63 percent supported it with just 37 percent opposed. Bond issues require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

Idaho Education News reports that turnout was sparse in the school bond election, at just 9.5 percent of registered voters. It was the first bond issue sought by the district since 2005, and came in response to an 18 percent increase in student numbers since 2005-06. The bond was intended to fund the construction of two new middle schools, one new elementary school, renovation and expansion of  Meridian High and site purchases for future new schools; Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a full report here; he also has a statewide roundup here on how various school bond levies and bond issue vote fared.

Military equipment in demand among Idaho police agencies

Idaho law enforcement agencies have received at least 2,905 pieces of donated military equipment worth more than $9.3 million, mostly during the past three years, the Idaho Statesman reports today, according to data from the Idaho State Police. They range from $1 pliers to MRAPs - mine-resistant ambush protected armored vehicles - worth anywhere from $412,000 to $733,000. Last September, the Idaho State Police requested a cargo plane. The MRAPs went to six police departments: Boise, Caldwell, Nampa, Pocatello, Post Falls and Preston.

The Statesman’s full report is online here. Reporters John Sowell and Audrey Dutton report that the military trappings are in high demand among Idaho agencies, and at least one local police department has received more military firearms than it has officers on its force.

Commerce chief apologizes, says firm getting tax incentive will be named when deal finalized

Idaho state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer apologized today for promising last week that the first recipient of Idaho’s generous new tax reimbursement incentive would be named at an Economic Development Council meeting today at which the council approved a 25 percent tax break for the firm. “I screwed up,” Sayer told Eye on Boise. “That wasn’t the agreement we made with the company.”

Today’s council approval is only preliminary, Sayer said; if the company accepts the offer for the tax incentive, a final agreement still would have to be negotiated. Once that’s approved, all aspects of the deal would become public, he said. “Today we are respecting the wishes of the company,” he said. “There are going to be situations where we give that approval only to have the company tell us ‘thanks but no thanks, we’ve chosen another state.’” That’s apparently not the case here, however.

“When an agreement is signed and a company does decide to choose Idaho, you’ll see us be completely transparent,” Sayer said. The information will be posted on a Commerce Department website, he said. “All of those details will be on the table.”

The information that Commerce is releasing today about the deal includes a one-page summary that you can read here. It says “Project Sky” is a project to build an aerospace maintenance facility in Ada County that would hire 50 full-time employees in 2015, with benefits, and expand to 100 over the next 12 years, with an average annual wage of $52,000. The council voted today to offer a 25 percent rebate of the firm’s sales, payroll and corporate income taxes for 12 years; the new incentive law allows up to 30 percent for up to 15 years.

Though Commerce decided not to name the airline today, the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that it is SkyWest. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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