April 19, 2011 in Idaho

Priest Lake cabin owners get two more years

By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Russell photo

Gov. Butch Otter, center, presides over the Idaho Land Board on Tuesday; the board voted to give cabin owners on state-owned land at Priest Lake a two-year lease extension, though at higher rent, while two lawsuits over state cabin-site rents work their way through the courts.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE - Owners of cabins on state-owned land at Priest Lake got another two-year lease extension today, but it comes with a rent hike.

The cabin owners, who currently pay 2.5 percent of the bare land’s value per year as rent, will be able to keep the leases in 2012 and 2013, but at a rental rate of 4 percent per year, the Idaho state Land Board decided.

The move comes after the 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, but the new leases were blocked by two pending lawsuits.

“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 Idaho 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 and own their 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.

The state is in court both over the constitutionality of the law that’s blocked public auctions when cabin leases come up for renewal; and in litigation with cabin owners who have objected to the changing terms of their longtime lease arrangements.

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