Idaho cabin owners outbid in auction for state land leases
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, “They’ve made a series of very unusual decisions up at Priest Lake, and this is another of them.”
He’s waiting for a ruling from a North Idaho judge on his request to “declare that the auction process itself was flawed and it was an invalid auction.”
Jan Nunamaker bid $1,000 to keep her family’s long-standing lease, but was outbid by Denver attorney Peter Mounsey, who bid $2,000. But Miller said that 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 Jan. 1, unless the court stops him. 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 land, $22,880, to the state in advance.
Nunamaker’s grandfather, John Morton Starlin, hand-built the cabin in 1933 out of salvaged materials that he brought in 10 miles by rowboat; the site has no road access. Starlin’s descendants have been gathering at the modest cabin, and another small one they own next door, also on leased state land, for decades.
The ashes of five family members are located on the auctioned site, along with permanent memorials to all five.
“The history on that cabin is really kind of remarkable,” Miller said.
The 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 to the state, $21,720.