Idaho is starting a process to prepare for possible sale or exchange of its state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes, and the state's top elected officials wrestled today with the implications. The state plans to spend about $1.48 million to survey and otherwise prepare for the transactions; state lands strategic business analyst Kate Langford said that may sound like a lot, but it's “less than 1 percent of that total estimated value, on a conservative level.” Langford said that work will start at both lakes in June. The first lots should be ready for possible transactions in the first quarter of 2012, Langford told the state Land Board, and the rest could be ready by the end of 2012. For Bonner and Valley counties, she said, “This is huge potential for both of those counties, a very positive impact for their taxable foundation. But it's also something that's not been done in recent times,” so the state will need to work with both counties as lots transition from state to private ownership. “Those discussions will be initiated once we get some direction from the board,” she said.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he's worried that cabin owners on state-owned lots are getting “unrealistic expectations” that all the lots will be sold or traded quickly, and that's not likely to happen. “It's not going to be done immediately,” he said. “No. 1, you're working with the state, and No. 2, the market itself is going to dictate how fast some of this happens, and as we all know, the market's not real hot.” He added, “No one wants to get out of this thing faster than I do. But I also have a duty of undivided loyalty to the beneficiaries. We need to do it in a manner where we will get as much as we can.” Plus, he said, the state may opt against disposing of some of the cabin sites, choosing instead to buy out cabin owners. “Eventually those values are going to go back up, and we're going to have some valuable recreational property around lakes that no one's making any more.”
Under the state's current plan, the lake cabin owners who now lease their lots from the state would have three options: Voluntary participation in consolidated land exchanges, voluntary participation in rolling auctions for sale of the lots, or continuing to lease the land from the state. “We're going to be leasing lots for the next foreseeable future, quite a while, because we're not going to get rid of them in that quick a time frame,” Ysursa said.
After much discussion, the Land Board voted unanimously to adopt recommendations from its staff for the process, including all three of those options, but didn't adopt a proposal to set up installment payment programs for cabin owners who participate in auctions. Several Land Board members, including Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said they had concerns about the state acting as a “bank” for those transactions; they may revisit the installment issue later.