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High court denies challenge to cabin land rents

BOISE – The Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out a legal challenge to rents on state-owned cabin sites on two Idaho lakes, which charged that the state Land Board violated the Idaho Constitution by setting the rents too low.

But the high court didn’t rule on the merits of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s challenge, saying instead that it should have started in a lower court. Wasden said he’d head to district court and refile the case.

“Because of the critical importance of resolving this long-standing question, I plan to follow the Supreme Court’s advice and proceed to district court in order to vindicate the constitutional rights of Idaho school children and the other beneficiaries of the endowment trusts,” Wasden said in a statement.

The attorney general charged that the Land Board, of which he is a member, is violating the Idaho Constitution by not securing the maximum long-term return for the beneficiaries of the state’s endowment lands, chiefly Idaho’s public schools.

The court’s 3-2 decision, authored by Justice Joel Horton, didn’t dispute that. Instead, it essentially tossed out the challenge on procedural grounds.

Justice Roger Burdick dissented, writing, “The facts in this case are not in dispute. The record clearly demonstrates that the Land Board is exceeding its discretion in leasing the cottage sites for less than market value and failing to obtain the maximum long-term financial return for the beneficiaries, which is a violation of both … (state law) and the Idaho Constitution. The majority does not deny this, instead finding that the Attorney General has other plain, speedy and adequate remedies available.”

But Burdick said that’s not really the case. All of the state’s cabin site leases, including those at Priest Lake, expire this month and are up for renewal.

The state Land Board voted 3-2 last March on new cabin site rents for the next five years; Wasden was among the dissenters. The cabin sites include 355 at Priest Lake, on which private owners have built and owned their cabins, in some cases, for generations. The land under the cabins is owned by the state endowment.

While Wasden contends the new rents are too low to meet constitutional requirements, cabin owners at Payette Lake have sued the state in district court, arguing that they’re too high.