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State Lands Dept. sets auction for longtime family burial ground at Priest Lake

The Starlin family stands to lose a lot more than the lake cabin their great-grandfather hand-built on leased state land back in 1933 when Idaho auctions off the parcel next month. They could be leaving behind generations of family members whose remains have been buried there, too.

Marissa Olsson still remembers the moving ceremony in which 30 extended family members shared memories of her grandmother, then each placed a handful of her ashes in a spot that held special memories of her; she took hers to the beach where she made her grandma mud pies, and her grandma obligingly pretended to eat them, a spot the two had dubbed the “Priest Lake Cafe.” Now, the family’s modest cabin is one of four set for conflict auctions next month, and the family has filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho challenging the process, joining another cabin owner also facing a conflict auction.

After an Idaho Supreme Court decision last summer overturned a state law protecting cabin leases from conflict auctions, bids were solicited. Three Priest Lake cabin sites and one at Payette Lake drew conflict bids, meaning someone else wants to bid against the existing cabin owner for a chance to take over the lease. If the outsider wins the bid, the existing cabin owner must be paid for the value of their improvements at the appraised price.

Among the concerns raised in the lawsuit: Though the state is allowing every other cabin owner at Priest Lake a shot at a new appraisal for their cabin site, after the latest ones were challenged as inaccurate, those facing conflict options weren't allowed to object; they also weren't allowed to join land exchanges to try to get ownership of their cabins before the conflict auction. Appraisals determine the yearly rent that cabin-site lessees pay; the family’s rent for the site in question was $7,223 in 2011; it’s proposed to go to $22,880 next year.

But the most eye-catching item in the lawsuit, filed late last week in Bonner County, is the human remains. The cabin site is the final resting place not only for Olsson’s grandmother, but also for her great uncle, her step-grandfather, and two cousins, including a little girl who was stillborn in 1939. Permanent memorials to all five are located on the site. “The whole family is very upset about it,” said Olsson, now an attorney in Seattle; her aunt, Jan Nunamaker, holds the lease now. State Lands Department Deputy Director Kathy Opp said Monday that she knew nothing about the human remains and hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.


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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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