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Posts tagged: idaho department of lands

Idaho auctions off more oil and gas leases

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Lands has auctioned off oil and gas leases on 5,250 acres of state-owned land in southern Idaho for $263,000. The Idaho Department of Lands says Trendwell West Inc. was awarded eight tracts for $190,000 on Wednesday, and that Alta Mesa Idaho was awarded three tracts for $73,000. The leases are for about 4,500 acres in Owyhee County, 600 acres in Cassia County and 160 acres in Gem County. Counting previous auctions, state officials say they've now leased about 98,000 acres of state-owned lands for oil and gas development. On producing wells, the state will receive a 12.5 percent royalty.

State considers changes to grazing fees

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lands officials are considering increasing how much ranchers pay to graze on state lands for the first time in more than 20 years. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/WMZDMm) reports that Idaho's grazing fees are lower than its neighboring states but the state hasn't updated its fee formula since 1993. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan says the state could change the rate depending on the quality of forage in an area a rancher wants to graze in. However, Idaho Cattle Association president Jared Brackett says ranchers could opt to graze on federal lands, where fees are significantly lower than those charged by the state. Callihan says the department will collect public input on how to change its grazing rates over the next year.

State auctions off 21 Payette Lake cottage sites; all but one sell to current renters

More than 150 people attended an auction over the weekend at which the state Department of Lands auctioned off 21 cabin sites at Payette Lake on which renters have built cabins or homes; 20 of the 21 sold to the current renters. The other lot sold for $42,000, or $5,000 above the appraised value of the land; the purchaser also will be required to pay the appraised price for the improvements to the former renter.

The auctions were for the land only; they took in a total of $6.07 million for the state endowment fund, which benefits state institutions including schools. All but three of the lots sold for appraised value to the current renter with no competitors bidding; the competitive bidding on the other three brought in an additional $33,200 over the appraised values. You can read a full announcement here from the state Department of Lands. The renters of the 21 lots voluntarily joined the auction in hopes of getting title to the property under their cabins, though they also risked being outbid; the state is trying to get out of the cabin-site renting business and into more profitable investments for the endowment. The lots auctioned included six on the lakefront.

‘Big Ed’ Beckley sends big payment in to state, right on schedule

Idaho’s state Department of Lands received a payment of $943,000 today, right on schedule, from Beckley Media LLC, pursuant to a hotly contested auction last week for the rights to a two-year lease on state endowment lands that include the landing site of Evel Knievel’s unsuccessful 1974 motorcycle jump across the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls – to allow for a re-try of the stunt as its 40th anniversary approaches. The payment came in by electronic fund transfer; Beckley already had paid the $25,000 first-year rent. All the money goes to the state’s public school endowment.

“The Idaho Department of Lands looks forward to working with winning bidder ‘Big Ed’ Beckley on his lease for use of state endowment trust lands for the purpose of re-creating Evel Knievel’s 1974 jump in September 2014,” said department spokeswoman Emily Callihan. In addition to the $968,000 Beckley now has paid to the state, there’ll be a second-year rent payment of $25,000 due, plus a percentage of proceeds including TV rights and sponsorships.

Knievel’s legacy a million-dollar boon to Idaho school kids

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel never finished high school, but his stunt-jumping legacy could become a million-dollar boon for Idaho school kids. As the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle approaches, a flurry of interest from those who want to re-try the stunt has brought an unexpected windfall to Idaho schools. That’s because the state’s public school endowment owns the land on the rim of the canyon that includes the landing site – and after a hotly contested five-way auction last week, Texas motorcycle stuntman “Big Ed” Beckley won the rights to a two-year lease on the land for $943,000.

“We had Cheshire-cat grins on our faces, because it kept going up and up and up,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “I was thinking, boy, that can buy a lot of books and stuff.” The $943,000 was just the “bonus” bid – the payment for the rights to the lease. The lease itself requires $25,000 in annual rent for two years, plus a percentage of proceeds including broadcast rights and sponsorships, to be paid over to the school endowment.

The best part for Idaho’s schools: The money gets paid, whether or not the jump comes off. Beckley’s already paid the first $25,000 annual rental fee; his $943,000 payment to the state is due Friday. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

State Lands Dept. under fire over family burial ground auction, land swap…

Idaho’s state Lands Department is under fire from two different directions this morning: In a new lawsuit that charges it’s about to hold a conflict auction on a family burial ground, and from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who say an inadequate appraisal allowed a private party to benefit to the tune of $1.6 million on a state land exchange, instead of the state endowment’s beneficiaries.

The new lawsuit over Priest Lake state-owned cabin sites charges that two cabin-site lessees who will face conflict auctions in late October haven’t been allowed to challenge their appraisals, as all other lessees at the lake were allowed to do after big concerns were raised over the newly set values; that the two weren’t allowed to go into land exchanges to avoid the conflict auction, though the department had indicated earlier that would be allowed; and that one of the cabin sites has been held by the same family since its inception in 1933, and five family members' remains are located there, including scattered ashes and permanent memorials. “The earliest of these human remains has been on the property since at least 1939,” says the lawsuit, filed in Bonner County.

Lands Department Deputy Director Kathy Opp said she knew nothing about the graves and hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit; she confirmed that lake cabin lessees who were targeted with conflict bids this year – there were four, including three at Priest Lake and one at Payette Lake – aren’t being allowed to appeal their appraisals or join land exchanges until the conflict auctions have been held.

The land exchange issue involves the University of Idaho’s McCall Outdoor Science School Campus, which had been owned by the state endowment, but last year was traded for commercial property in Idaho Falls that houses Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC, the operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. Both properties came in with identical appraisals of $6.1 million; after the swap, the private owner of the Idaho Falls property, IW4 LLC, sold the newly acquired McCall property to the university for $6.1 million. That left the university in control of the site, which had been the source of increasing tensions as the Lands Department considered big rent increases to match its constitutional requirement to maximize income from endowment lands.

But House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, have joined a new group with former GOP Rep. Bob Forrey and attorney John Runft, the Tax Accountability Committee, that commissioned its own review appraisal on the Idaho Falls property, and it came in at just $4.5 million. If that’s right, the private owner in Idaho Falls profited to the tune of $1.6 million, at the expense of the state’s endowment, something the TAC group dubbed “a travesty.” Vander Woude and Burgoyne, who held a Statehouse news conference this morning, say they’ll bring legislation requiring review appraisals in all future endowment land exchanges, along with more legislative scrutiny over such transactions. You can read the TAC letter to the Land Board here.

Opp said the department stands by its appraisals, and hasn’t routinely ordered review appraisals in addition. “It can be costly – you’re paying another appraisal fee,” she noted. Opp said the Idaho Falls property has been “performing as expected” as an endowment investment; it earns annual rent of $538,312, more than double the annual rent from the McCall science campus lease of $248,000. The series of transactions was approved by both the state Land Board and the State Board of Education.

Tree project aims to protect aquifer

A five-year project to use trees to promote the health of the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer has wrapped up, with new trees planted, a blueprint for where to plant more, a boost for a Hayden program that uses poplar trees to drink up treated wastewater, and various efforts to promote forest health throughout the North Idaho-Spokane region. “Knowing how trees could benefit the aquifer, we had a really unique opportunity,” said Mary Fritz, program planning specialist for the Idaho Department of Lands in Coeur d’Alene.

The department secured a $300,000 federal grant, which was matched with local funds from an array of agencies including the Idaho department and the Washington Department of Natural Resources; cities, utilities, private landowners, the Washington State University Extension, Spokane County Conservation District and more. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

A newsy week for summertime, from state legal woes and wins to Olympic cheer…

For the dog days of summer, there was a fair amount of news happening in Boise last week while I was off on vacation. Here are some highlights:

* Public records revealed that the state has sent another $15,760 payment to the private law firm it hired to defend the state Transportation Board against a wrongful-firing lawsuit from former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe. Lowe, the department's first female chief, recently settled her lawsuit, which charged both gender discrimination and political pressure; the settlement hasn't yet been disclosed. The state's legal bill to the law firm of Holland & Hart now adds up to $556,239.

* U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Candy Dale sided with Idaho Gov. Butch Otter in a lawsuit challenging the federal listing of slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The court decision requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit the issue; a jubilant Otter said he was “encouraged” that the court agreed the federal decision was “flawed.” The plant, a native desert flower found only in small parts of southern Idaho, was declared threatened in 2009 despite several years of efforts by the Otter Administration to develop a conservation plan. The primary threats to the rare flower are trampling by livestock, off-road vehicles, agriculture and other human activity.

* The Idaho Department of Lands announced that fiscal year 2012 saw a record timber harvest of 330 million board feet of timber from state endowment trust lands; that's about 35 percent of the total timber harvest in the state, though state-managed forests are only about 5 percent of Idaho's forest lands, and it's 150 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest. However, it's only 98.5 percent of the five-year average for state timber harvest receipts; that's due to lower timber prices that have dropped significantly in the last five years.

* An archaeological dig by the University of Idaho in the heart of downtown Boise found artifacts dating back 130 years in an old well discovered on the Basque Block; items recovered included an intact decorative bottle of Gilt Edge ladies' shoe polish, marbles and jacks, and the head of a porcelain doll.

* A state prison instructor was arrested for having sexual contact with a prisoner, a felony; the female instructor taught at both the South Boise Women's Correctional Center and the South Idaho Correctional Institution, a minimum-security prison for men south of Boise.

* Boise Police raided six massage parlors in a sweep resulting in charges ranging from prostitution to licensing violations.

* State tax revenues for July came in 1.5 percent below forecast, $3.4 million down. All but one category, miscellaneous revenue, missed the forecast, which called for the month's general tax revenues to rise by 6.4 percent over last year's July revenues; instead, it was 1.5 percent lower.

* Idaho has seen an increase in fatal motorcycle accidents, with preliminary data showing 13 motorcycle deaths in the state so far, compared to six at the same time in 2011. Six of the 13 were in July. Most of those who died were men over age 40; those who went through the state-sponsored motorcycle skills training, STAR, or Skills Training Advantage for Riders, had a 79 percent lower risk of being involved in a crash.

* Olympic cycling gold medalist Kristin  Armstrong was welcomed home to Boise by a crowd of more than 1,000 at a group bike ride and celebration on Saturday, at which Gov. Butch Otter proclaimed it “Kristin Armstrong Day” in the state, and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter declared Armstrong's almost-2-year-old son Lucas honorary mayor. It was also Armstrong's 39th birthday.

Increasing complexity of state lands issues separated forester position

Under Idaho law, the state forester is either the director of the state Department of Lands or his/her designee. The last two state lands directors, George Bacon and Winston Wiggins, served as state forester as well as director, but Bacon appointed David Groeschl as acting state forester in July before he retired, leaving the question of a permanent decision to the next director. Current state Lands Director Tom Schultz said, “Clearly I have to have my hands and feet in the forestry issues, but a lot of those issues take place up in Coeur d'Alene, where the timber basket is.” That's where Groeschl is based. “I think there probably was a day when things were less complex,” Schultz said, and “allowed the director to directly engage in state forestry issues probably more than I can.” These days, the state lands director is engaged in lots of other issues as well, from state-owned cabin site leases to legislation.

Schultz noted that in both Montana and Washington, the state forester is a separate position from the state lands director.
  

Idaho names new state forester

David Groeschl (it rhymes with special) has been named Idaho's state forester by state Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz. Groeschl, who's been the acting state forester since July, joined IDL in 2008 as the forestry and fire division administrator; prior to that, he was forest management bureau chief for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation from 2004 to 2008, after working in private, industrial and public forestry around the nation. Groeschl holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin in forest management and a master's degree in forestry from Virginia Tech.

Schultz said, “We are lucky to have someone of David’s caliber to take over the reins as the state forester. He brings experience from the private sector and other parts of the country adding to his extensive forestry background in Idaho to help us succeed in our endowment mission to maximize these resources for the beneficiaries of the state.” The state forester is required by law to carry out the  provisions of the Idaho Forestry Act and the rules and regulations of the state Land Board on forest and watershed protection.

Schultz became Idaho's state lands director in August, replacing longtime IDL employee George Bacon, who retired; like Groeschl, Schultz came from Montana, where he was administrator of trust land management for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and had worked since 1997. Schultz, an Air Force veteran, holds a degree in government from the University of Virginia, a master's in political science from the University of Wyoming and a master's in forestry from the University of Montana.

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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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