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Posts tagged: idaho land board

Land Board set to consider land swap for UI McCall science campus

The land exchange that's at the heart of the University of Idaho's plan to take ownership of the lakeshore McCall Outdoor Science School campus it's leased from the state endowment for the past 65 years is up for approval by the state Land Board at its meeting tomorrow, which starts at 9 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. Through the exchange, the 14-acre property adjacent to Ponderosa State Park would be swapped for an office building in Idaho Falls that currently - and still would after the exchange - houses the Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, the operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building is in a commercial business park called the Education Research Center, where INL's in-town operations have been consolidated since 2005.

State Lands Department staff estimates the two properties are of equal value, but the office building would bring the endowment a return of 8.25 percent of property value per year; the science campus currently brings in 4 percent of value, but historically has earned less than 2 percent of its value in annual rents.

Two members of the state Land Board, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and state Controller Brandon Woolf, recently held an open house in Idaho Falls to share information about the proposed swap. It's a step toward diversifying the endowment's land portfolio, which is mostly rangeland and timberland.

Today's unanimous Board of Education vote for the UI to buy the property was one step in the transaction; Land Board approval for the exchange would be the other.

State’s endowment investments having a good run

Idaho's state endowment investments grew by 2 percent in August, investment manager Larry Johnson reported to the state Land Board today, but it's gotten better since then, he said: “So far in September things have been very good - we've earned almost 3 percent for the month, so as of yesterday, our fiscal year-to-date returns were up to 6.6 percent.” That's up from a 3.4 percent gain for the fiscal year as of the end of August. On Aug. 31, the state's endowment fund was worth $1.3 billion.

Land Board opposes bills to restrict endowment investments, says they’re unconstitutional

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A majority of the Idaho Land Board is against a plan to place limits on the kind of investments it can make. Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Anderson says the board voted 3-1 Tuesday to oppose three bills currently in the Idaho Legislature. “All three bills, in their view, infringed upon their constitutional powers as a board to make decisions,” Anderson said. House lawmakers want to halt the state endowment fund's expansion into storage facilities, saying it unfairly meddles in the private sector's business. They voted 66-3 on Monday for HB 495, to require the Land Board to sell or lease all improvements on endowment-owned ground and sell all business operations. The board is now weighing in, with state Controller Donna Jones, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden opposing the legislation. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna did not support the move, while Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter abstained.

The other two bills are HB 477, from Rep. Bob Schaefer on cottage site leases; and HB 612, another measure from Schaefer that seeks to restrict the endowment from purchasing buildings.

New fracking rules approved after much testimony for and against…

After a hearing that stretched for more than an hour and a half and saw extensive testimony both for and against, Idaho's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission has voted unanimously to approve new rules for development of crude oil and natural gas resources in Idaho, including “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing. Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who was presiding in place of Gov. Butch Otter, abstained from the vote because of pending negotiations regarding possible gas drilling on his land. The state Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which consists of the members of the state Land Board, approved temporary rules for gas drilling, including the controversial practice, in April; today's vote marked final approval, though lawmakers still will review the rules during their legislative session that starts in January. You can see the full 22-page rule here.

Supporters of the new rules said they'd promote jobs; opponents said they threaten clean water in the state. Boise Weekly reporter George Prentice has posted a full report here, and you can read Rocky Barker's full report here in the Idaho Statesman.

Land Board to update its asset management plan in wake of criticism

Idaho's state Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and includes the state Attorney General, Secretary of State, Controller and Superintendent of Public Instruction, voted unanimously today to begin crafting updates to its asset management plan for the state endowment, to reflect recent updates, such as the decision dispose of many lakefront cottage sites, and to “clarify desirable types of land investments.” Though board members continue to clash over the endowment's purchase last year of a self-storage business, which is operated for the state by a contractor - and criticism from some legislators and others that the endowment is competing with the private sector - all said they thought the updates were a good idea; you can read my full story here at

“I for one believe that clarification in our overall plan is probably appropriate, to help us focus our thoughts and our actions and also … educate the public and the Legislature about what we're trying to accomplish,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Gov. Butch Otter said he thought the self-storage purchase was the first time the Land Board had “changed the character of our position” from simply being a landlord, to being “dependent on … profits and loss.” Deputy Lands Department Director Kathy Opp noted that there are other types of leases where the endowment gets a percentage of profits; the Tamarack Resort lease was one, she noted. Otter said that one included a base payment, with the percentage on top of that - and he's comfortable with that arrangement. “Then you have a posture of being the landlord,” he said. “You're not at risk.”

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna said he's concerned about impacts on local property taxes when the endowment purchases land in a particular county, city or school district; that property becoming publicly owned, and thus exempt from property taxes, would cause others in the same jurisdiction to pay more to make up the difference, he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted, “There are more taxes than property tax - there's income and sales taxes, and sometimes work on the endowment property impacts that area, too. … They go into the general fund, and a pretty high percentage goes to public schools.” He said, “You can't discuss that in a vacuum. … You've got to look at the whole picture.”

Some lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have suggested that the endowment should make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments. But Otter said, “It's been pointed out again and again, the Constitution prohibits us from doing that.” He said he was interested in exploring some type of “mechanism” to allow something along those lines, but that'd likely take a constitutional amendment. Wasden noted that when the endowment buys property in one jurisdiction, it typically sells or trades away property in another jurisdiction - so any property tax impact in one is balanced by the opposite impact in the other.

The Lands Department will work on the updates to the asset management plan and coordinate with all the Land Board members and their staffs, and present them to the board at its November meeting.

Idaho officials mull ‘all new’ oil, gas issues…

Idaho's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which consists of the members of the state Land Board - the state's top elected officials - voted this morning to set the levy on all oil and gas produced in Idaho at the maximum level currently allowed by law, 0.5 percent per barrel of oil or per 50,000 cubic feet of gas. But it also noted that the Department of Lands is preparing legislation to propose to lawmakers in January to increase that levy to 1.5 percent and raise application fees. The panel also discussed granting regulatory authority to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to oversee “gathering pipelines,” which are lines used to transport raw gas from the well head to the treatment plant and from the treatment plant to the main pipeline. Gov. Butch Otter said the board needs to be kept informed. “This thing is moving so fast … and it's all new to us - it's new to me,” he said.

If the state chooses to assume oversight of regulatory safety jurisdiction for these types of gas pipelines, it would require legislation in the next session.

State endowment fund had a ‘tough’ month in August, but distributions still ‘well secured’

The month of August was “a tough one for the endowment,” state endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson reported to the state Land Board this morning, with a loss of 4.5 percent for the month, for a total loss for the fiscal year, since July 1, of 5.3 percent. “All of our managers are performing about as you would expect them to in this environment,” Johnson said. Distributions from the fund for fiscal year 2012 remain “well secured,” Johnson said.

Lawmakers crafting revised endowment legislation

Associated Press reporter John Miller reports that Reps. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, are planning to work on revised legislation to limit the state Land Board's endowment land investments, out of concern over competition with the private sector. “There's clearly an area where we can legislate,” Burgoyne told Miller after two days of hearings on the issue concluded Tuesday in the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee. “I think House Bill 188 is going to have to be reworded,” VanderWoude said. “But it's going to be something similar to that.” That bill sought to place limits on the state Land Board's management of endowment lands, including requiring that “all business operations located on or using said land, shall be sold to private persons;” it didn't pass. Click below for Miller's full report.

Lawmakers question state endowment land management, suggest sales, PILT

Lawmakers on the Natural Resources Interim Committee have raised an array of questions about management of state endowment lands. Among them: Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, asked state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna if Idaho might not have been better off to sell some of the endowment land when values were soaring, “if some of that land could've been liquidated,” and give the money to schools. Luna said no. “I do not think it's wise to sell any of the assets to the endowment and distribute the money made off of that sale,” he said. “I think through proper management, we … take the money we've earned from that sale and invest it in other hopefully higher-profit generating ventures that then generate more revenue for the endowment. … If it means distributing the corpus, then I don't think that's wise.” Luna said some states have taken that route in the past “to the point where they have nothing left.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle noted that the federal government pays PILT, or payments in lieu of taxes, to local communities for some federally owned land, and Idaho's Fish & Game Department now makes such payments when it purchases formerly private land and takes it off the tax rolls; a constitutional amendment authorized that. He suggested the endowment should look at something similar if it acquires property that formerly was private.

Rep. John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, said the state endowment's commercial property has seen its value drop from $45 million in 2007 to $36 million in 2010, and he said his calculations show the property's bringing in a return of just 2 percent of its value per year for the state. “It seems like that investment's going south,” he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted that “the commercial property and the value of it goes with the market, and of course goes down if in fact commercial real estate has gone down.” He noted, “I think taking snapshots is maybe a little bit unfair, as to how this is working. I think maybe you have to look at the long term on all this.” He added, however, “I am concerned - you brought up some good points, and I'm going to ask those same questions myself.”

Ysursa: ‘Crossroads of three branches of government’ in endowment debate

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee today that after watching the process for the past 37 years, “I think we're at an interesting intersection, crossroads … of the three branches of government dealing with endowment property.” The executive branch, through the Land Board, manages the endowment. “We have the legislative branch who wants to know, and they're good questions, how far can they go in putting up sideboards on what we can do.” And then, the judicial branch is weighing in: A decision is pending from the Idaho Supreme Court on whether a section of state law regarding not holding conflict auctions for endowment-owned cottage sites is constitutional. “The folks at the Supreme Court are going to have an opportunity to give us all some more guidance, I think, fairly quickly,” Ysursa said. “We are going to get some more guidance from the State Supreme Court … on how far can the Legislature set the sideboards.”

He said, “I think the real evolution I've seen in the 37 years is that we don't wear two hats, we wear one hat.” Court decision after court decision has come down telling the state that it can't consider other interests in managing endowment land, such as the health of the state's grazing industry or even the general public interest; it has to focus solely on getting the maximum long-term return for the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the public schools. “As a trustee, I totally understand the furor over some of our recent decisions and where some of our investments are,” Ysursa said. “We're at an intersection. You have your interests as a legislative body. We certainly have ours as the executive branch, and very shortly the judicial branch will give us some more guidance. And I welcome this. … I welcome and need legislative input, we need input from beneficiaries, to provide constructive alternatives.”

J.D. Williams to lawmakers: Endowment ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’

Former state Controller J.D. Williams told lawmakers today, “Every dollar that we can make for these endowment lands and the trust fund is a dollar that does not have to come from taxpayers. The more we make, the more it grows and the less taxes have to be collected.” Williams said when he was first elected as state controller and to a seat on the state Land Board, he went to a conference of lands commissioners from other states, and found that some were making 10 times what Idaho was from its endowment lands, and using the money to fund schools and other needs. That concern was part of the driving force behind the endowment reforms initiated in the 1990s and approved by voters as an amendment to the state constitution, Williams said.

“Talk to Gov. Batt about this - endowment reform was led by Gov. Batt, without him it would not have occurred,” he said. A major piece of the reform allowed the endowment fund to be invested into higher-earning but riskier investments, such as the stock market, rather than just in low-return bonds; it also allowed the funds and land to be managed together; and called for diversifying the portfolio of land investments, including exchanging away lower-yield land such as cottage sites and grazing land, for higher-yielding land, from timber land to commercial property.

Williams said much of the commercial property that was acquired was in the immediate vicinity of the state capitol. “I thought it made a lot of sense to diversify the portfolio and we would also protect the vicinity of the capitol for further generations,” he said, noting that some states have ended up with their state capitols in deteriorated or unsuitable areas. Williams noted that when he was first elected state controller in 1990, the state endowment was worth $320 million. “When I left in 2002 it was worth almost $600 million, almost double in 13 years. Today … it's worth $1.2 billion. It's doubled again in nine years. As Ronald Reagan said many times … if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think they're on the right track.”

Lawmakers take ‘Trust Law 101,’ learn about state endowment

The Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee is taking a course in “Trust Law 101,” starting with a presentation from University of Idaho professor and author Jay O'Laughlin. Idaho's state endowment is a trust for which the Land Board holds a fiduciary duty, O'Laughlin told lawmakers. That means they must manage the trust's assets for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiaries - mainly public schools, but also the University of Idaho and other state institutions - not for the general public. “It is a fact that trust businesses have always competed with the private sector,” O'Laughlin said. “The underlying issue here is determining the appropriate business enterprises from which to maximize income from the endowment assets.”

The panel also is hearing today from University of Idaho constitutional law professor Dennis Colson; current and former state Land Board members; representatives of the trust beneficiaries; and more. Tomorrow, the joint committee will hear about the management of the trust's current assets, from the state's permanent endowment fund to timber and grazing land to cottage sites. The committee is meeting in room EW 42 of the state Capitol; live audio from its meetings is being streamed live here.

The discussion follows the introduction of HB 188 in this year's Legislature by Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, which sought to place limits on the state Land Board's management of endowment lands, including requiring that “all business operations located on or using said land, shall be sold to private persons.” The measure, which didn't pass either house, was co-sponsored by five other state lawmakers.

The Natural Resources Interim Committee includes 10 state lawmakers from both houses, plus eight more lawmakers from both houses who serve as ad hoc members. Colson, an expert on Idaho's state constitution, shared the history of the endowment and constitutional requirements with the lawmakers. “The idea was that the endowment was directly related to keeping taxes low for public schools,” he said.

New lands chief could help Idaho tap into gas revenues

Idaho's new state lands director has lots of experience in Montana managing oil and gas revenues from state trust lands, reports Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker, which should come in handy as Idaho begins to look at potential revenues from natural gas on its state endowment lands. Barker reports that Montana's revenues from oil and gas on state trust lands jumped more than 200 percent, or $20 million, between 2005 and 2006, in part due to prices and in part to the new fracking technology. You can read his full post here.

Land Board picks Montana official to head Idaho Department of Lands

Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously to hire Tom Schultz, current administrator of trust land management for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, as Idaho's new state lands director. Schultz, 42, replaces George Bacon, a longtime department employee and the director from 2007 until about a month ago, when he retired; Schultz was chosen from among four finalists, including two from within the department. Schultz will be paid $112,800 per year, the same salary Bacon was earning; it's below the state policy level for the position of $116,000, but he'll get a review and possible adjustment after six months.

“We had four quality candidates, and I appreciate them stepping forward, especially those that are a part of the department,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. “I think Tom brings a set of skills from Montana that will take the department to the next level.”

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said, “We had some very fine candidates – Kathy Opp in particular.” Opp is the acting director and current deputy director; she's been with the department since 2004, and also worked for the department from 1992 to 1998, serving as its fiscal officer. Opp also worked for Boise Cascade.

The other two finalists were Bob Brammer, assistant director at the department for lands, minerals and range; and Lon Lundberg, a businessman and property manager from Meridian. “We had some great people that applied for the job,” said state Controller Donna Jones. “I think we were very lucky.” Added Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, “I think we're going to have the best of both worlds – hopefully our candidates from inside the department will decide to stay and be part of the team.”

This is the first time in decades a director has been selected from outside the department. Gov. Butch Otter said Schultz “brings a lot of new ideas and experiences, especially concerning return on assets.” In Montana, Schultz has headed the trust land management division for the state since 2001; he's been with the state since 1997 and has also served as chief of the forest management bureau and administrator of the water resources division. Schultz is the current president of the Western States Land Commissioners Association. An Air Force veteran, he 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.

Said Gov. Butch Otter, “He comes with a pretty well-established background on natural resources and on management of same.” Plus, he said, “He was a great interview.” The governor said, “We saw it as a great fit for what we consider to be a great team.”

Land Board votes 4-1 to keep school funding from endowment even next year

Idaho's state Land Board voted 4-1 this morning to distribute $47.5 million to state endowment beneficiaries including public schools next year, up 2.3 percent overall from this year's distribution of $46.425 million, but with no increase for schools, which would get $31.29 million, identical to this year's level. State schools Supt. Tom Luna cast the lone dissenting vote, prompting a questioning look from Gov. Butch Otter, who's chairing the meeting, as he hadn't spoken against the motion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to approve the endowment board's recommendation. “I chose not to rehash my concerns I've expressed before at this time,” Luna said, “seeing it wasn't going to change any votes.” Otter responded, “You're probably right.”

Luna successfully advocated an additional $22 million payment from the endowment to schools the year before last to help ease them through state budget cuts, but the board agreed to that only on a one-time basis. The endowment board's recommendation is based on the state's management formula for the fund, that 5 percent of the permanent balance be distributed to the beneficiaries each year; the largest beneficiary is public schools, while others include the University of Idaho, State Hospital South, the state penitentiary, and other state institutions. That formula would actually result in a small reduction for schools and one other beneficiary next year, but endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson said there are sufficient reserves to make sticking with at least last year's level “prudent.”

Some of the other endowments have actually exceeded their targets for reserves; in accordance with the state's policy, $28.6 million from those funds' reserves will be transferred into their permanent funds. There's no transfer back for public schools, which now has enough reserves to cover three years of distributions, below the target of five years; all other endowments have five years' worth of reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers are prudent and achievable, and … they represent an appropriate balance between current beneficiaries and future generations,” Johnson told the Land Board.

The distribution level approved by the Land Board today will now be built into budget requests for 2013 that lawmakers will consider in January.

Two Land Board members back away from storage investment, three others don’t

Two of the five members of the Idaho Land Board - Gov. Butch Otter and state schools Supt. Tom Luna - now say they erred last year when they voted to spend $2.7 million to buy a storage business whose revenue benefits Idaho public schools and other state institutions, the Associated Press is reporting; the Land Board voted unanimously on Aug. 17, 2010 to purchase the business. The move came in for criticism during this year's legislative session.

Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller; you can read the Land Board's staff memo here on the proposed purchase, which all five Land Board members had before them when they took the vote. It includes this: “The purchase of Affordable Self Storage meets the purpose and objectives expressed in the board's Asset Management Plan and priorities for new assets in the following ways: Increases net cash flow $228,500-$260,700 annually to Public School Funds; Diversifies asset types to reduce risk; and Reduces single industry dependence (forestland).”

Idaho prepares to sell or trade away Priest, Payette lake cabin sites

Idaho will start surveys and other groundwork in early June to prepare to sell off or trade away some or all of its 521 leased lakefront cabin sites, including more than 350 at Priest Lake. Top state officials warned, however, that it's not likely to be a quick process. “It's not going to be done immediately,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “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.”

Bud Belles, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, said he's disappointed by the time frame. “This is going to stretch out for years if they do it their way, and it doesn't have to,” he said. “If the values go up and nothing happens, a lot of us won't be able to afford our lots … we're going to get kicked off our lots, essentially.” Belles, 70, a retired computer consultant from Nine Mile Falls, said he wants to buy the land under his cabin, which has been in his family since he was 8 years old.

Today's vote came as the state and cabin owners are facing off in court over rental rates for this year and following years; on Friday, 4th District Judge Michael McLaughlin issued a written ruling calling for a rent freeze to match 2011 rents to 2010 levels. The Land Board then filed a motion for reconsideration on Monday, saying if it had to match rents for 2011-2013 to 2010 levels, the state endowment - and Idaho's schools - would lose close to $6 million. You can read my full story here at

State launches negotiated rule-making process on ‘fracking’ for natural gas

The Idaho Land Board, sitting as the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, voted unanimously today to start a negotiated rulemaking process on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The initial notice matches a temporary rule the board's already adopted. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa asked about the Bridge Energy fracking plan and the recent denial of a permit for a related compression station in Payette County, but Lands Department staffer Eric Wilson said, “That is not something the Department of Lands is involved in.”

Gov. Butch Otter said the state should at least be offering advice to Payette County about how other states have approached issues regarding fracking plans. “Obviously this is new to all of us,” he said. “We oughta have a one-stop shop,” whether that means involving the PUC, the DEQ, or other state agencies. “They ought to be at least a part of the rulemaking process or participating in it.”  Here's a link to a Friday report from the Boise Weekly on the Payette County P&Z vote.

Cottage-site case draws crowd as lawyers argue over constitutionality

There's a full courtroom at the Ada County Courthouse today for a hearing in the cottage site lease case, in which cabin owners on state-owned lands at Payette and Priest lakes are arguing they should be able to extend their previous leases, and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is arguing that a state law exempting cabin-site leases from conflict auction requirements is unconstitutional. A judge already issued a preliminary injunction finding the law unconstitutional. It protects state endowment cottage site leases from conflict auctions at the end of the lease terms, partly on the grounds that some of the leases have been in the same family for 50 years and conflict auctions “caused considerable consternation and dismay to the existing lessee at the prospect of losing a long-time lease.”

The state Land Board is required to manage state endowment lands for maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools - and not for other purposes.

More than 50 people, many of them lease holders, are watching as the attorneys for the various sides offer their arguments on two summary judgment motions. The constitutionality issue focuses on the meaning of the word “disposal:” The Idaho Constitution says state endowment lands shall be “carefully preserved and held in trust, subject to disposal at public auction for the use and benefit” of the trust's beneficiaries.

The cabin owners are arguing that “disposal” just means sale, and shouldn't be interpreted as covering their leases. Attorney Phil Oberrrecht, representing Payette Lake cottage site owners, cited Black's Law Dictionary and Webster's dictionary definitions of the word “disposal” to bolster his argument. “How does one dispose of his real property? By renting it? I don't think so. That's how you manage it,” he said. “This is the common meaning. … If you're going to dispose of something, you get rid of it - you don't go store it someplace or give it to temporary possession by somebody.” Fourth District Judge Michael McLaughlin drew laughter when he told Oberrecht, “I'm just glad you didn't quote from Wikipedia.”

Deputy Attorney General Clay Smith, representing Wasden, cited a string of Idaho Supreme Court cases and told the court, “It has to work this way because that's what the Constitution said.” He told the court, “It is a lease. And any suggestion to the contrary is simply untenable. The only issue before the court is how the term 'disposal' shall be construed.”

Attorney Merlyn Clark, representing the state Land Board, didn't offer arguments on the constitutionality issue, but spoke against the lessees' motion to renew their leases. “There's no option to renew, there's no contractual right to renew,” Clark told the court. “Only if the board determines to offer a right to renew does one exist, and not otherwise.” The Land Board has offered lessees both a one-year extension of their 10-year leases that expired Dec. 31, and an additional two-year extension after that, but at a higher rental rate.

The state Land Board unanimously supported legislation this year to repeal the law exemption cabin sites from conflict auctions on grounds it's unconstitutional; the bill, SB 1145, passed the Senate in March on an 18-16 vote but never came up for a committee hearing in the House.

Priest, Payette lake cabin owners get two-year extension, but at higher rent

Though the Idaho Land Board voted in December to offer cabin owners on state land at Priest and Payette lakes new 10-year leases at a rental rate of 4 percent of the land's value per year, rather than the current 2.5 percent, that hasn't happened yet as two lawsuits are pending over the issue. So today, the Land Board voted unanimously for a two-year lease extension for the cabin sites, at the 4 percent rate; you can read my full story here at

“We need a short-term solution,” state Lands Director George Bacon told the board. All of the 10-year cabin-site leases were set to expire in December, but the state granted a one-year extension under the previous lease terms, at 2.5 percent rent. Now, it faces an April 30 deadline to provide notice of what will happen next year, in 2012. “The obvious comment is that we're in the middle of litigation, and this is a way to meet the deadlines and have this go through the next two years,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “I think we're in a corner. This is the way out of it for a while. … I think this is the best we can come up with.”

While agreeing to raise the rental rates for the land on which lessees have built their own cabins, the Land Board in December also voted to move away from the current “split ownership” arrangement, in which the state owns the land while the cabin owners own the buildings on it. That would mean, over time, either letting the cabin owners buy the land or acquire it through land exchanges; or the state buying out the improvements. The state Constitution requires state endowment land to be managed for maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools; that's been at issue with the rental rates charged to longtime cabin owners.

Meanwhile, the Land Board also voted today to move forward with auctions of three cabin sites at Payette Lake, including one on the lakefront. Two of the three leaseholders, including the one on the lake, have simply decided to stop paying their leases and given them up; the lake lot has a small cabin on it, while the other lot has just a shed, owned by a neighboring landowner who held the lease. The third cabin site had its lease canceled a year and a half ago for non-compliance with lease terms; all three sites will go on the auction block for bidding by prospective new lessees in August.

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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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