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Eye On Boise

Tue., Aug. 23, 2011, 1:40 p.m.

From UI drama to D.C. shaking to pricey spud-bowl naming rights…

Wild news day today, what with the Moscow shooting (psych professor at UI kills 22-year-old female grad student, then shoots self) and the D.C. earthquake (5.9 magnitude, centered in Virginia, felt along east coast, some damage, widespread evacuations).

Meanwhile, Idaho has a new state lands director – click below for AP reporter John Miller's take on the challenges former Montana lands official Tom Schultz will face at the Idaho agency – and it turns out that naming rights for the “Famous Idaho Potato Bowl,” formerly the Humanitarian Bowl, don't come cheap – the Capital Press reports that the Idaho Potato Commission will spend $2.49 million over the next six years for the naming rights for the college football bowl game in Boise. You can read their full report here.

Scrutinized Idaho lands agency gets new boss
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A Montana natural resources official was selected Tuesday to take over the Idaho Department of Lands, which is grappling with increased interest in natural gas drilling and pressure to boost investment returns.

Thomas Schultz, a Montana Department of Natural Resources administrator, was selected by the Land Board to run the Idaho agency that oversees lake cottage sites, timber and grazing ground and downtown Boise commercial property.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who heads the five-member land board, said Schultz' experience as administrator of Montana's trust land management division that oversees state-owned mineral leases was part of the reason why he got unanimous support from the board.

Otter said Schultz has been given time to wrap things up in Montana, so his start date hasn't been set. But when he arrives, he'll oversee a department that's increasingly been in the spotlight.

The Department of Lands is navigating new interest in natural gas exploration. A small company, Bridge Resources, successfully drilled for gas in Payette County west of Boise, prompting Idaho to scramble to develop new rules governing such operations.

Also, the Idaho agency, in an effort to benefit public schools, has recently made moves to boost returns from its so-called endowment lands, but critics say it has unfairly gone into competition with the private sector by investing in private properties.

Lawmakers including state Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, have said they plan to back legislation next year that could require endowment lands for the first time to pay taxes, a move conservative legislators say is necessary to level the playing field with private businesses as the Land Board expands investments into properties such as Affordable Self Storage, which it added last summer.

The agency is also moving ahead with plans to eventually auction or trade hundreds of lakefront cottage sites along the shores of the Payette and Priest lakes whose management in recent years has provoked debate over whether Idaho is demanding enough for annual leases from those who have occupied the cabins on endowment land for decades.

Schultz, who will earn $112,800 a year in his new job, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Since 2001, he's been in charge of the Montana agency that oversees its roughly 6.1 million acres of mineral rights and 5.2 million acres of trust lands, which was given to many states by the federal government at the time they entered the Union to benefit important institutions like schools, prisons and state mental hospitals.

Idaho still owns about 2.5 million acres left from its original 3.7 million acre grant in 1890.

Earlier this month, the Land Board voted to distribute a total of $47.5 million generated by the properties. Public schools got about $31.2 million, the biggest share.

Schultz' predecessor, George Bacon, tried unsuccessfully to put an amendment to Idaho's Constitution on the ballot to give agency officials more flexibility to sell large parcels of state- or university-owned land without holding a public auction. Under existing rules, Idaho is hindered from entering partnerships with developers to complete infrastructure or build homes, which officials contend could maximize returns to the state.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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