Posts tagged: Idaho state Land Board
Here’s some interesting historical perspective from Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey: The last time Idaho held a conflict auction for state-owned cabin site leases was in 1987, when the state Land Board auctioned off 22 lots at Payette Lake in an effort to establish market values. It was a failure for the state; all but one of the 22 lots sold to existing leaseholders who paid the minimum bid, Popkey reports.
Plus, he reported, “The only bidders to contest an existing leaseholder were a Boise couple, Al and Sharon Hutchins, whose bids were booed by the crowd at a school gym in McCall. They got the lot, however, paying $46,000, $11,000 over the minimum.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.
Times have changed since then. In 1990, the state had scheduled a cottage-site conflict auction, but it was canceled, after then-Gov. Cecil Andrus signed into law new legislation protecting cabin-site lessees from conflict bids. In July of this year, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law as unconstitutional.
Back in 1990, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans noted that the whole legality of the new law rested on charging market rents for the lots, an issue the state would struggle with over the following years, repeatedly backing off from proposed big rent increases after protests from longtime cabin owners, who own the cabins they’ve built on the state land. In fits and starts, though, rents rose substantially.
Popkey also notes that 85 percent of the state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake are leased to Idaho residents, but the figure at Priest Lake is just 10 percent. Many of the Priest Lake lessees are from the Spokane area, which is the largest population center near the lake. For Payette Lake, that population center is Boise.
In 2007, Idaho tried to auction off two new lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake with a lease rate double what others then were being charged, 5 percent of value vs. 2.5 percent. It was a flop; no one bid. About 50 existing lease holders attending the auction at the Coeur d’Alene Inn burst into cheers. Now, lease rates are set at 4 percent of value per year; the state is required by the Idaho Constitution to manage its endowment land – including the cabin sites – for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.
Four cabin owners on state-owned leased land at Priest Lake, and one at Payette Lake, have drawn conflict bidders who want to bid against them in the fall for the right to continue leasing the ground under their cabins. It’s the first time in decades that Idaho has faced that situation on its state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest and Payette lakes; for years, a state law has protected the lessees from conflicting bids at lease renewal time, but the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law in July as unconstitutional.
“The high bidder, if it’s not the current lessee, would have to pay the value of the improvements before they left the auction,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “The current lessee could be the high bidder, or the conflictor could be the high bidder.”
After years of struggle over whether the rents charged for the lake cabin sites met the state’s constitutional requirement to manage its land endowment for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries – the largest of which is Idaho’s public schools – the state’s moving toward getting out of the cabin-site business. But it still has 354 at Priest Lake and at least 150 at Payette Lake, and every one of those has its lease expiring Dec. 31.
As of Tuesday’s deadline – 5 p.m. Boise time – 343 of the 354 lessees at Priest Lake had applied to renew their leases, or 97 percent; and 134 of the 150 at Payette Lake had done the same, at 89 percent. The fate of the 11 other lots at Priest Lake and the 16 at Payette Lake is uncertain, but Schultz said some of those involve lessees who already were behind on their rent or otherwise in default on their leases.
Over the coming years – and even as soon as this summer - the state will look at land exchanges, auctions and other moves to protect endowment income and get the state out of the business of being a landlord for people’s longtime lake houses. That could allow some of the existing lessees to buy the land under their cabins. But for now, a small number of them could face competitors to keep the plots. “If you’re a lessee, you probably don’t look at it as a good thing,” Schultz said. “If you’re the state, it says at least on those sites, at that value, someone is willing to want to acquire that for that value. To me that’s a positive.”
The five cabin owners who are the targets of the conflict bids haven’t yet been identified; the state will begin notifying them Wednesday. If they successfully complete land exchanges or voluntary auctions to remove the lots from state ownership by October, they could avoid the conflict auctions. Otherwise, the conflict auctions for the right to lease those lots will be scheduled in the fall. Bids start at $1,000 for the right to take over the lease at the existing lease rate; the high bidder wins. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — Three lawsuits on behalf of 353 lease holders of cabin sites on Priest Lake in northern Idaho have been filed to prevent Idaho officials from increasing annual rent payments. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/17Qkb7i) the lawsuits were filed Thursday and Friday in 1st District Court. A lawsuit filed Friday by the Priest Lake State Lessees Association represents 320 lease holders, and another lawsuit on Friday includes 17 more. A lawsuit filed Thursday includes 16 lease holders and names the Idaho Department of Lands, the Land Board and its five members, including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. That lawsuit contends the appraisals by the Idaho Department of Lands are flawed and inaccurate. Rates are set to skyrocket as the state seeks to maximize its profit from state endowment land as it is required to do by law.
The clock is ticking for state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes; current lessees must apply by April 30 if they want to continue to lease the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho next year. That’s also the deadline for conflict bidders who want to bid against the current lessees, whose leases all expire Dec. 31. Meanwhile, the state Land Board will let cabin owners on the Priest Lake sites flag factual errors in their new, much higher appraisals if they do so before the 30th.
“We’ve got a Supreme Court decision that we have to go with,” said Gov. Butch Otter. “That’s where we are.”
A court decision last summer removed protections the state had granted lake cabin-site renters from competitive auctions when their leases come up. At the same time, the state is in the process of moving to get out of the cabin-site rental business, either through land exchanges, auctions or other moves that will keep income flowing to the state’s endowment. In the midst of all that, new state appraisals on the 354 Priest Lake cabin sites came in an average of 84 percent higher for next year, with some more than doubling.
The Idaho State Land Board is required by the state Constitution to manage state endowment lands for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. Much of the state’s endowment is timber land on which logging brings in annual income; the cabin sites bring in far less.
“Obviously these people have enjoyed these cottage sites for generations, in some cases, and I certainly can see that,” Otter said. “I understand the anxiety that it’s caused, but it doesn’t lessen our obligation.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho’s state Land Board approved a timber sale plan for 2014 today that calls for harvesting 249 million board feet from state endowment lands, the highest logging level in more than a decade. The state endowment land timber cut has been fixed at 247 million board feet for the last several years, but next year’s includes a one-time adjustment, due to various factors in certain regions, that bumps it up by 2 million. In 2002, the state's timber sale plan volume was less than 175 million board feet.
The board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials and is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, unanimously adopted the plan; the state received only positive public comments on it, including enthusiastic support from Bennett Lumber Products, Idaho Forest Group and Stimson Lumber Co. in North Idaho.
“Last year almost one-third of all sawlog volume brought into our facility originated from Idaho Department of Lands timber sales,” wrote Tom Biltonen, resource manager for Bennett Lumber in Princeton. “The IDL timber sale program is a critical component of Bennett Lumber’s supply base and long term viability. We appreciate the efforts of the Idaho Department of Lands in supplying raw materials to the timber industry and the resulting support of our schools and other endowments.”
Last year’s state timber harvest, despite the high level of cut, actually brought in reduced receipts due to lower prices. This year, state Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz pointed to some good news on that score – two timber sales in March brought an average stumpage price of $400 per thousand board feet, up from recent years’ averages of $200 or less; the state is now averaging around $250. State forester David Groeschl said the economic downturn brought significant drops in prices starting in 2008; now, there’s a surge in demand and a shortage of timber on the market from private sources. “Over the next couple of years we will see improved demand and improved stumpage prices,” Groeschl said. “I think overall, it’s going to continue to slowly improve.”
For the first time ever, the state of Idaho is opening up every state-owned cabin site on Priest Lake to conflict bidding – meaning others could bid against the current cabin owners when the 354 leases come up Dec. 31; the same is true for the 165 cabins at Payette Lake. At the same time, new state-commissioned appraisals have come in a whopping 84 percent higher for next year for the land values on the Priest Lake state lots, which are used to calculate annual rents; the Payette Lake lots actually declined slightly in value in the news appraisals. Some Priest Lake cabin owners who were in the midst of negotiating for land exchanges to get ownership of the land under their cabins now are finding out they can’t afford it.
“It will have an effect,” said state Lands Director Tom Schultz. He’s guessing that anywhere from 8 percent to 30 percent of the 354 Priest Lake cabin owners may default on their leases, walking away from cabins that in some cases have been in their families for generations. “I’m not going to make false promises and say that it’s going to be OK, because for some of those folks, it may not be OK,” said Schultz, who will travel north to the Spokane Valley for a meeting with cabin owners on Wednesday night. “What I’ve found is that people would rather hear the truth and be given options for dealing with the truth.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Officials from an Idaho firefighting organization have reached an agreement with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over citations and fines levied after a 20-year-old firefighter was struck and killed by a falling tree while working on a wildfire last summer, according to the AP and the Lewiston Tribune. The Orofino-based Clearwater Potlatch Timber Protective Association has agreed to a $10,500 fine, down from the $14,000 fine that OSHA proposed in February for the death of U.S. Forest Service firefighter Anne Veseth of Moscow; the state Land Board authorized the agreement this week. Click below for the full report.
Idaho’s state Land Board heard a “year in review” presentation this morning culminating in the presentation of a giant facsimile of a check for $31,292,400 to high school students, made out to “Idaho’s Public Schools.” Capital High School choir students who attended the ceremony also performed earlier in the statehouse rotunda. State Lands Director Tom Schultz said it’s part of “remembering where this money’s going and who it’s supporting.” Idaho’s state endowment, including both endowment lands and the state’s permanent endowment fund, are a trust, with proceeds going to support specific beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. In the past year, the endowment distributed $46 million, with $31.3 million going to schools. Other endowment beneficiaries include colleges and universities, state hospitals and prisons.
The year-in-review presentation highlighted a timber sale for 2012 of more than $50 million; the planting of nearly 1.5 million trees; the final stage of the “lot solutions” process to prepare state-owned cottage sites for future sale or exchange; and two land exchanges, one trading the McCall Outdoor Science School property for commercial property in Idaho Falls, and the Camas Prairie land exchange with Bennett Industries, which swapped 2,900 acres of timber land for 1,200 acres of highly productive farmland and 450 acres of timber land.
State lands staff also noted that though Idaho had one of its worst fire seasons in history, only half the 20-year average burned on state-protected wildlands.
Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously in favor of a land exchange to trade the University of Idaho's McCall Outdoor Science School property for a 32,138-square-foot office building in Idaho Falls that houses Battelle Energy Alliance, the contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building, known as Education Research Center 1, has an existing lease with Battelle that runs for another seven years, and annual base rent is $538,312. That compares to the $248,000 that UI is currently paying to lease the McCall property, which is adjacent to Ponderosa State Park.
The university plans to buy the McCall property from the office building owner for its appraised value, $6.1 million. UI has leased the McCall property from the state endowment for 65 years; this year, the annual lease payment went up fivefold. Land Board members had several questions before their unanimous vote, noting that the two properties being exchanged have equal value and the rate of return to the state endowment will substantially increase.
“I want to thank the staff for the background information that they provided that showed the impact this would have on the property tax base in Bonneville County and also historically the impact that state owned lands has had on the property tax of Bonneville County,” said state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. “It was helpful for me, it answered my questions.” Lands Department staff reported that Bonneville County collected $36,000 in property tax in 2011 from the office building, and once it becomes state endowment property, it'll generate no local property tax, meaning the rest of property taxpayers in the county make up the difference. However, since statehood, 64,669 acres of endowment land has been sold to private parties in Bonneville County, an estimated $45 million in property value that generated nearly $550,000 in local property taxes in 2011.
Click below for a statement from the University of Idaho about the transaction involving “one of the most beautiful and pristine settings in the world,” its McCall outdoor science campus.
In this year's wildfire season, about 1.75 million acres burned in Idaho, while about 9.1 million acres burned nationwide. “That puts us close to 20 percent of the acres nationally that burned, occurred in this state,” Idaho state Lands Director Tom Schultz told the Land Board this morning. However, on the 6 million acres of state lands and those for which the Lands Department provides fire protection, only 4,674 acres burned this year. That's only half of the historic average of just over 9,000 acres. The state spent $22.7 million on firefighting and was reimbursed $8 million, for a net firefighting expenditure of $14.5 million.
“We took significant assignments out of state,” Schultz reported. “We still do have some staff helping in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on some of those issues.” He said, “It was a substantial fire season, very long, it went into October, and we had a lot of folks that gave a lot. We did have the one fatality, Anne Veseth, on the Steep Corner fire.”
Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, said, “I notice that the number of fires, 182, 101 of them were human-caused. Is there recovery there above and beyond the $8 million?” Schultz said the state hasn't projected amounts for that, but said, “We do pursue those with our counsel. … So we are involved in some of those investigations.”
The Idaho Statesman reported today that on the Boise National Forest this year, half the fires were human-caused, which is way up from historical levels; that included the destructive Trinity Ridge fire.
The hobbist miner from Grangeville whose permit use a suction dredge in search of gold and garnets in the Salmon River prompted a lawsuit against the state now says he'd decided not to dredge there afer all. “I declined to do that mineral lease a few weeks ago … because there is no gold in the river where I was dredging,” Conklin told The Lewiston Tribune in a story published today.
Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League said the ICL's attorneys are reviewing whether to continue pursuing the lawsuit now that Conklin has nixed his mining plans. “We continue to have questions as to whether the Land Board appropriately followed state law,” Oppenheimer said. “On behalf of the anglers, local businesses and scientists who spoke up for the Salmon River, we appreciate that Mr. Conklin has reconsidered his plans.” Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and the Lewiston Tribune.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― An environmental group has sued the state after officials including Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter approved a plan to dredge the Salmon River for gold. The Idaho Conservation League on Tuesday announced it had asked a 4th District Court judge to require Idaho to approve a reclamation plan before signing off on any mining projects. In September, Grangeville miner Mike Conklin was awarded a five-year lease by the Idaho Land Board, giving him sole access to a half-mile stretch about 13 miles downstream of Riggins. The Boise-based environmental group contends the board ignored laws meant to protect Idaho's water, arguing that miners who use gasoline-powered suction dredges often leave big holes in the riverbed that damage valuable habitat for salmon and steelhead. Some anglers opposed Conklin's permit, saying it will hurt fishing. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
This morning's state Land Board agenda included a recommendation to approve a stipulation to settle the title for some property on the shore of Payette Lake on which a 1942 deed had incorrectly identified the property lines, including part of the lakebed, which the state owns. The owner, who acquired the property in 1981, filed a “quiet title” action, resulting in the stipulation to make the correction. But when it came time to vote, Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, said, “For the record, the chairman will not vote.” Secretary of State Ben Ysursa responded, “I had a hunch.”
The property owner? Otter's ex-wife, Gay Simplot.
Idaho's state Land Board voted unanimously this morning to approve a mineral lease for recreational dredge mining on the Salmon River, over objections from the Idaho Conservation League and longtime anglers on the river, who said suction dredge mining there is damaging the pristine river and leaving dangerous and deep holes. Opponents also raised questions about conflicting state laws regarding reclamation and other issues. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden asked the board to hold off on the vote last month so he could visit the site and look further into the issue, which he did.
“This river is a unique and important river to the people of this state,” Wasden said. He said those who protested the lease raised “a serious overarching policy question … whether recreational dredge mining or dredge mining at all is appropriate for this stretch of river. But that question was answered already by the state Legislature, by the Department of Water Resources and by the Department of Lands in the adoption of a series of statutes and rules. So that question has been answered under the law, at least for today. This stretch of river is open to recreational dredge mining.” He added, “The broader question is a question for another day and another forum.”
The lease, Wasden said, would actually limit such activity by giving the lessee, Mike Conkin, exclusive rights to minerals on a half-mile stretch of the river. That would limit the number of people dredging there, Wasden said, and he said he thought that was appropriate. “This is a pristine and beautiful river,” he said. The attorney general said the state should look into clarifying the rules and statutes to address concerns brought up by opponents. “It seems to me that that is an appropriate discussion in which we should engage,” Wasden said.
Jonathan Oppenheimer of the ICL said after the vote that he was disappointed that the Land Board didn't move to protect the river; he said the EPA is likely to step in under federal clean water laws, if the state doesn't take action. Reporter Aaron Kunz of EarthFix has a deeper look at the issue here; it's one that divides the community of Riggins, where gold-mining enthusiasts and fishing and floating outfitters have competing interests.
A grim Idaho state Land Board heard a report this morning from the state Department of Lands on the ongoing destructive wildfires in the state. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted that he saw the headlines in the newspaper this morning about concerns about hazards on the Steep Corner fire, in which 20-year-old Moscow firefighter Anne Veseth was killed, including questions about communications and coordination by the state Department of Lands on the fire. “I'm concerned for our own crews, making sure they have the communication, organization,” Wasden said. He asked state forester and fire official David Groeschl, “Do you feel satisfied with the communication, coordination, and organization that we have, that it would protect our firefighters?”
Groeschl responded, “We are very diligent.” He said crews receive extensive training and protective gear. “I am very proud and very confident in our folks and what they do out there,” Groeschl said. “The last thing we want to do is put them in harm's way, undue risk.” He noted that firefighting is risky. “We will continue to, as much as we can, ensure the safety of our firefighters.”
Groeschl offered condolences on Veseth's death, and noted that the state Lands Department is conducting one of four investigations into it. The others are led by OSHA, the Forest Service law enforcement branch, and a “serious accident investigation team,” he said.
Groeschl said the state has spent $7.6 million on wildland firefighting so far this season, and expects to recover about $3.1 million from other agencies, for a net cost of $4.5 million. National Guard resources have been mobilized to assist. “Resources now are being stretched thin nationally,” he said. “The next couple of weeks will continue to be challenging. We do not see any season-ending events as far as rainfall for the next couple of weeks.”
The Lands Department's firefighting goal is initial attack, he said, with the goal of containing 95 percent of new fire starts within 10 acres.
Idaho's state Land Board voted unanimously today to impose restrictive covenants on state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake, to ensure that the land use there doesn't change as some or all of the lots move to private ownership in the future. A few Priest Lake cabin owners whose cabins are on the state lots objected to the move, saying they didn't want a homeowner's association to enforce restrictions in the future, but most backed them; here, Land Board members hear comments from Priest Lake State Lessees Association President Denny Christensen, who spoke in favor. Kaari Burrows Davies, a dissenter, told the board, “We don't need to now put a homeowners' association in place that's going to cause division or wreck a good system that really is working.” Several other cabin owners submitted emails to the board; one, from Neil Maris, said, “Please do not let the voices of a few disgruntled lessees influence your decision. They DO NOT speak for us!”
The state is moving toward possible land exchanges to rid the state endowment of the lakefront cabin sites after years of struggle to charge appropriate rents; the endowment is required by the Idaho Constitution to be managed for maximum long-term returns to its beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court recently overturned as unconstitutional a state law that protected the cabin sites from conflict auctions when leases come up.
The board, which consists of the state's top elected officials, held a special meeting today, after it put off the issue at its last regular meeting to request a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. That opinion was delivered, and it found that the board has the authority to impose restrictive covenants on the land; it doesn't need leaseholders' consent to do so; and the standard that should govern the board's actions is its fiduciary responsibility to the endowment's beneficiaries. State consultants and Land Board staffers said covenants would protect the value of remaining state endowment land in the area once some cabin sites change ownership.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa made the motion to approve the staff's recommendation to impose covenants on the cabin lots, citing the constitutional requirement to maximize long-term income for the beneficiaries. “In my humble opinion, I think CC&R's will do that,” he said. His motion passed unanimously, with all five Land Board members present; in addition to Ysursa, they include Wasden; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; acting state Controller Brandon Woolf; and Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the board.
As Idaho moves toward transferring hundreds of state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest Lake to private owners through land exchanges or auctions, the state wants to protect the value of the land - and nearby state endowment land - through restrictive covenants. Most Priest Lake cabin owners who now own their cabins, but not the land, are on board with the idea, but some are objecting.
The restrictions would keep in place current regulations limiting the sites to single-family homes, rather than condos, resorts or commercial development; ban mobile homes; require earth tones and “unobtrusive” construction; and require erosion control and defensible space to cut wildfire risk. Restrictive covenants aren't being proposed for similar cabin sites on Payette Lake to the south, but that's because those cabin sites are within the McCall city area of impact, subjecting them to restrictive zoning regulations. That's not true of the Priest Lake sites, where Bonner County's current zoning regulations could permit a variety of changes if the land became privately owned.
Gov. Butch Otter requested a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the matter today; once the board receives that in a week or so, it'll set a special meeting to decide on the covenants. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Owners of cabins at Priest Lake, like this 1930s one that retired school teachers Jim and Myrna Brown spent years renovating in the hopes that it could be a family legacy, are facing increased uncertainty after the Idaho Supreme Court decision overturning a state law that protected state-owned cabin site leases from conflict bidding. The ruling affects 354 cottage sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake. S-R reporter Sara McMullen takes a look at the issues here; cabin owners, who own their cabins but not the state-owned ground underneath, already are in the midst of working with the state in the Land Board's effort to “unify” ownership of cabin sites, through land exchanges and other steps.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that leases of state-owned cabin sites, like those on Payette and Priest lakes, are subject to competitive conflict auctions when the leases come up, striking down a state law that exempted the cottage sites. You can read the court's full decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously to give state Lands Director Tom Schultz a raise from $112,800 per year to $120,000 a year, after a six-month review gave him high marks for his performance in the post. “Speaking for the entire board, Tom Schultz has done a great job for us as our director of the Department of Lands, and I think we made a very good hire and we're patting ourselves on the back,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
Gov. Butch Otter said, “He's hit the ground running.” Schultz, the former administrator of trust land management for the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, was the first department director hired from outside the department in decades. In Montana, he headed the trust land management division for the state for a decade; he'd been with the state since 1997 and also served as chief of the forest management bureau and administrator of the water resources division. 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.
Otter said he's been impressed with Schultz's enthusiasm and ideas; he oversees management of the state's 2.4 million surface acres of endowment lands and 3.3 million acres of endowment minerals, along with overseeing fire protection on 6.2 million acres of state and private lands and the department's regulatory functions over forest practices, lake protection and surface mining. “Most specifically, I was really pleased with the feedback that I got from the Legislature,” Otter said, “because as you know, there were some things proposed that we felt infringed upon the constitutional direction of the agency and of the commission itself. So he's satisfied on all fronts.”
Schultz originally was hired at the same salary paid the previous director, George Bacon, which was below the state policy level for the position of $116,000, but with the promise of a review and possible adjustment after six months.