Idaho sued over lease rates at Priest, Payette lakes
BOISE – Priest Lake cabin owners scored a surprise win in court Tuesday, as a district judge in Boise indicated he’ll issue an order to freeze the rents they pay for the state-owned lots under their cabins.
“I don’t see where it precludes the Land Board from maximizing long-term financial return,” 4th District Judge Michael McLaughlin told a courtroom crowded with cabin owners from Payette and Priest lakes who rent their cabin sites from the state of Idaho.
McLaughlin said he’ll issue a full written ruling, but wanted to let all sides know where he was headed.
“The court will be issuing an order that the rents remain as they were prior to the December decision to raise those rents,” the judge said. “We’ll square those other things around as we get through this process.”
His move would throw the state Land Board’s much-debated plan for resolving contentious issues over the cottage-site leases into disarray.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who serves on the Land Board and watched the hearing from the audience Tuesday, said, “Well, one could say we are in various stages of disarray to begin with.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sued the Land Board – of which he’s a member – a year ago, charging that proposed new 10-year leases charged rents below-market rates, violating the state Constitution’s requirement that state endowment land be managed for the “maximum long-term financial return” to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.
People who’ve long rented the lots and built their own cabins on them argued that sharp rent increases could toss them out of family cabins that in some cases they’d owned for generations, letting only the rich access the state-owned lakefront lots.
The Idaho Supreme Court rejected Wasden’s suit on procedural grounds, kicking him down to state district court, where cabin owners joined the case. They argued that rather than being too low, the proposed rents were too high.