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Boy Scout camp land swap not happening

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 27, 2012, 9:03 a.m.

COEUR d’ALENE — The Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts of America says it has ended discussions with a developer over the proposed swap of the historic Camp Easton on Lake Coeur d’Alene for another nearby property.

Inland Northwest Council CEO Tim McCandless and council president Barry Baker posted a letter on the group’s website Wednesday that said the council will instead start a capital campaign for improvements to Camp Easton, including building a tunnel under Highway 97.

Discovery Land Co., the developer of the Gozzer Ranch housing and golf course development near Camp Easton, had proposed swapping Camp Easton for property on the west side of the lake. Discovery also pledged to build a new scout camp there and establish a $2.5 million endowment for maintaining the facility.

A nonprofit group, Camp Easton Forever, Inc., sued to halt the exchange, saying the land for Camp Easton had been donated to the Boy Scouts in 1929 with the intention that it be used for that purpose forever. A Kootenai County District Court judge dismissed that suit, but the group said it would appeal the judge’s ruling to the Idaho Supreme Court.

In the letter posted Wednesday, McCandless and Baker said the council entered into negotiations with an open mind and established a review process. “We did not know what the outcome would be, but we were committed at every step to do our very best to make the right decision for our organization. We then did exactly what we said we would do.”

The letter said the council now will focus on upgrading Camp Easton, and is launching a fund-raising campaign for that purpose.

Safety at the camp was one of the council’s stated reasons for entering into negotiations to swap the camp property, because Camp Easton is split by Highway 97 and scouts must cross the highway to get to the waterfront.

“Funds raised will be used to construct a tunnel under Highway 97 to connect both parts of our camp,” the letter said.

In addition, Camp Easton needs upgrades to its aging infrastructure, and the capital campaign will be used to establish “better staff housing, improved camp headquarters and new program features.”

Ron McIntire, executive board member of the scouts council, said in the letter, “Now that the decision’s made, we need everyone who supports Camp Easton to step up and donate…”

Both the executive board and foundation board of the Inland Northwest Council voted to approve the swap, and 61 percent of respondents to a scout survey supported it. Spokesman-Review Publisher Stacey Cowles is an executive board member of the Inland Northwest Council.

But opponents of the deal said the two properties were not comparable. The property on the west side of the lake, at Sunup Bay, doesn’t have a sandy beach and is windier than the waterfront at Camp Easton, they said.

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