Two Priest Lake cabin owners were outbid for their leases on the state land under their Idaho cabins on Thursday - including one who has at least five ancestors’ remains buried on the site.
The family is hoping to overturn the results of the auction through its pending lawsuit, and their Spokane attorney said he was surprised the state went ahead with the auction; state lands officials said there was nothing legally to stop it.
“Because there was no injunction filed, there was nothing that would preclude it moving forward,” said Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan. “We have a legal obligation to put expiring cottage site leases up for advertisement. If somebody other than the current lessee emerges who’s interested in acquiring that, we have to hold the auction.”
Spokane attorney J. Scott Miller said, “The litigation is still pending.” He’s waiting for a ruling from a North Idaho judge on his motion to “declare that the auction process itself was flawed and it was an invalid auction. So what the state has done is they’ve gone ahead and had the auction regardless.”
Jan Nunamaker bid $1,000 to keep her family’s longstanding lease, but was outbid by Denver attorney Peter Mounsey, who bid $2,000. But Miller said by participating in the auction, the family preserved its legal rights.
“The law requires that you participate in the bidding in order to have any claim that survives the auction process,” he said. “And so they participated in the bidding.”
With the auction done, Mounsey takes possession of the cabin on Jan. 1; he was required to pay Nunamaker the appraised value of the improvements at the close of the auction, which came to $38,500. He also had to pay the first year’s rent for the ground, $22,880, to the state in advance.
Nunamaker’s grandfather, John Morton Starlin, hand-built the cabin out of salvaged materials in 1933 that he brought in 10 miles by rowboat; the cabin site has no road access. Starlin’s descendants have been gathering at the modest cabin, and another small A-frame one they own next door, also on leased state land, for decades.
The ashes of five family members are located on the auctioned cabin site, along with permanent memorials to all five.
“The history on that cabin is really kind of remarkable,” Miller said. He said of the state Department of Lands, “They’ve made a series of very unusual decisions up at Priest Lake, and this is another of them.”
Nunamaker was among those signed up for a land exchange to allow her family to get ownership of the land under their cabin, but last month, the state canceled it and all future land exchanges due to new legal questions. The state Land Board has an adopted strategy of getting out of the cabin-site business, in which people build and own their cabins on rented state land. But with land exchanges off the table, that process has been slowed.
The state land is part of the state’s endowment, which is constitutionally required to be managed for maximum returns to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.
Idaho protected cabin owners from conflict bidders for decades under a 1990 law, but the Idaho Supreme Court overturned the law as unconstitutional last summer.
This week’s conflict auctions were the first since that 1990 law was enacted. In addition to the Nunamaker cabin site, another conflict bidder, James Hollingsworth, outbid relative Graham Sharman in a bidding war over a cabin site in the Pinto Point subdivision. Hollingsworth’s winning premium bid was $30,000 to secure the lease. He was required to pay Sharman the $132,000 appraised value of the cabin; and to prepay a year’s rent for the ground underneath it is to the state, at $21,720.
A third conflict auction held earlier this week for a Payette Lake lot also saw the current lessee outbid. Brady Peterson of Eagle won that auction with a premium bid of $6,000, after current lessee and Oregon resident Michele Cahill stopped at $5,000. In that case, the improvements, a decrepit trailer, were found to have zero value, so Peterson won’t have to pay Cahill. He paid the first year’s rent of $920 to the state in advance; the lot, in the Agate subdivision, isn’t on the lakefront like the Priest Lake sites.