Eye On Boise

Judge aims wrench at Land Board's plans for state-owned cottage sites

A district judge in Boise indicated today he's likely to throw the state Land Board's move toward resolving much-debated cottage-site lease issues into disarray. Fourth District Judge Michael McLaughlin, after a two-hour hearing, told a full courtroom, "Where I'm leaning, I can't find, even after this terrific oral argument today, I'm not looking at 58-310a as being unconstitutional. ... I don't see where it precludes the Land Board from maximizing long-term financial return." He also indicated he wants to again freeze cabin-site rents at the rates from a lease that expired in December; the Land Board, which consists of the state's top elected officials, already has set new methodology for calculating values and rents, and granted a one-year lease extension through 2011, plus a two-year extension after that at a higher rate.

"The court will be issuing an order that the rents remain as they were prior to the December decision to raise those rents," McLaughlin said. "We'll square those other things around as we get through this process. So I'm giving you a little insight as to where I'm headed."

The law in question, Idaho Code 58-310a, exempts leases of state-owned cabin sites from the conflict-auction rule that applies to other state leases; the Idaho Supreme Court hinted in an earlier ruling that it was likely unconstitutional, an earlier preliminary injunction from another judge suggested the same, and the state Land Board unanimously agreed and asked the Legislature this year to repeal it. The bill narrowly passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Bud Belles, head of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association and a longtime cabin owner on Priest Lake, said after the two-hour hearing, "I liked when he was nodding his head - it seemed like to our side."

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he'll have to wait for the judge's written ruling to fully understand its implications, but said as far as the Land Board's two-year struggle over cottage site leases and rents, "One could say we are in various stages of disarray to begin with." The board voted earlier this year to move away from the current situation, in which the state owns the land under the cabins but cabin owners build and own the improvements; doing away with that "split estate" would mean either buying out the cabin owners or selling them the land, possibly though land exchanges or auctions.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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