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North Idaho judge upholds Priest Lake cabin-site appraisals

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho judge says the state can use its most recent appraisals to set lease payments and minimum bids for the sale of cabin sites around Priest Lake. A group of more than 70 lessees sued the state in April seeking to bar it from using the higher appraisal amounts. The lessees argued they had a constitutionally protected property right to renew their cottage site leases. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports (http://bit.ly/V7IkUY) District Judge Barbara Buchanan ruled Friday that the Supreme Court has made it clear the Idaho Constitution prohibits recognition of any property right in a lease of state endowment land. The court also ruled the state is obligated to manage the property for maximum long-term returns to the endowment's beneficiaries, including public schools.

You can read Buchanan’s full ruling here. Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said the ruling leaves the department free to continue with its plans to sell a group of the cabin sites at public auction in late August, with the disputed appraisals serving as the minimum bid price.

Roosevelt cedar grove reopens, but only for day use

CAMPING — The Forest Service has re-opened Stagger Inn, the Roosevelt Grove of Ancient Cedars and Granite Falls, but visitors will be allowed in the area only during daytime. Camping will not be allowed this season.

The sites were closed last summer for removing hazardous trees after a camper in a tent was killed by a tree that came crashing down in a severe wind storm.

Although hazardous trees have been removed, forest officials say they're still concerned about the stability of some trees in the area.

“We recognize the importance and value of the site to generations of campers and will do our best to deem the site safe for camping in the future” said Matt Davis, Priest Lake District Ranger.

“Over the course of the next year the Forest Service will be monitoring other trees and soil conditions on the site determining if additional tress need to be removed and whether to open the site for camping in the future.”

High winds on the night of August 25th, 2013 caused several trees to become weakened and damaged in the Stagger Inn Campground, resulting in several fallen trees and causing one fatality at the campground.

Info: Priest Lake Ranger District, (208) 443-6839.

Lawsuit challenges state-owned Priest Lake cabin site values

Seventy-six cabin owners on Priest Lake who rent the land under their cabins from the state of Idaho have filed a lawsuit, charging that the state is claiming ownership of improvements including access roads, utility lines and more that the renters actually installed with their own money. As a result, the latest appraisals for the state-owned cabin sites – which will be used both as minimum bids for possible public auctions and as the basis for future rents for continuing leases – have ballooned by up to 80 percent, they charge, pushing them out of many lessees’ price range.

“The appraisals are objectively wrong,” the cabin owners argue in court documents; they’re seeking an injunction to stop the state from using the new appraised values, and return to last year’s values plus a 1.6 percent inflationary increase. But the state says that would mean a loss to the state’s endowment, which benefits public schools, of nearly $2 million next year. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Fascinating funji delicate, pink; will it kill you?

NATURE — This week's damp June weather is a gift from God for mushroom gatherers, and Priest Lake is a hot spot for variety.

Indeed, Pecky Cox, producer of the everything-about-Priest Lake website, found this beauty in her neck of the woods on Wednesday.  Can you positively identify it? 

A coral mushroom?

Would you ask you readers,” she wrote. “It's not yellow like the other one. OK to eat? Smells like dirty socks the way it's supposed to… but pink-ish?”

Angler pulls huge mack through ice at Priest Lake

FISHING — Micah Smith caught this huge mackinaw while ice fishing at Priest Lake on Saturday, says lakeside reporter Pecky Cox in her As the Lake Churns blog.  No other details, however.

Most lake trout caught by ice fishermen are in the 3- to 6-pound range.  This one looks 20-plus.

Land Board votes unanimously to set auctions for up to 95 Priest, Payette lake lots

On unanimous votes, the state Land Board has agreed to offer the 74 cabin site renters at Priest Lake and the 21 at Payette Lake who had been signed up for now-cancelled land exchanges an opportunity to go to public auction on their lots; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The Payette Lake auction likely will be held in late February in Eagle; the Priest Lake lots will be auctioned at the Coeur d'Alene Resort on two dates to be set before the end of the summer, and will be subject to new 2014 land appraisals that are now in progress.

“We have ready, willing and able buyers,” said Kathy Opp, deputy director of the state Department of Lands. “We believe the endowments could benefit from another voluntary auction cycle that captures current buyer interest while motivation is high.”

The state would be guaranteed to get at least the appraised value for the lots, which would be the minimum bid. If someone other than the current lessee for the land was the successful bidder at the auction, they would have to pay the current lessee appraised or assessed value for the improvements, including the buildings on the property. When the state held a similar auction for 13 Payette Lake cabin sites in October, all 10 that had current lessees went to those current lessees; the other three were vacant, unleased lots.

Idaho mulls public auctions for lakefront lots at Priest, Payette lakes

A real estate auction firm that ran a successful auction of 13 state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake in October is recommending that the state consider another big auction for cabin sites at both Priest and Payette lakes, with the Priest Lake cabin-site auction to be held at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. “It’s a nationally recognized venue,” Brian Rallens of Bottles Corbett Real Estate told the state Land Board this morning, and would draw attention to Priest Lake, “really a gem that’s not that well-known.”

Owners of dozens of cabins on state ground at the two lakes had been signed up for land exchanges, designed to swap the state-owned sites for higher-yielding commercial property while letting the cabin owners buy the ground under their cabins, but the exchanges were canceled amid legal questions. Those cabin sites would be good candidates for another auction, Rallens said. “Really the best time to sell is when you’ve got buyers,” he told the board – buyers who have already lined up financing and had been ready to move. “At the end of the day we really feel that there’s an opportunity for a fiduciary benefit for the endowment.”

With the turmoil and uncertainty revolving around the state lots at Priest Lake, as many as 30 percent of the current lessees may default, as they face steep increases in their rental rates for the ground under their cabins, Rallens said. That would force land values there down and saturate the market with vacant properties, he said.

At Payette Lake, 10 of the lots that were placed on the auction block already had lessees who had built their cabins on the lots and were leasing the ground from the state; all 10 of them were the successful bidders, with all but one purchasing the lots at their appraised value. The 10th one sold for $11,000 over its appraised value. At the same time, three vacant, unleased lots were auctioned, and they went for well over the appraised values: $1 million for a lot that was appraised at $662,400; $620,000 for one appraised at $585,000; and $1.1 million for one appraised at $1.066 million.

“It will drive prices up over time,” Rallens said. “Especially at Priest Lake we feel it’s an opportunity to preserve values.” He said, “From an expectation standpoint, I would say most will probably sell for appraised value.”

The Land Board is scheduled to vote later today on proposals to hold voluntary auctions in the coming months on 74 lots at Priest Lake that had been scheduled for land exchanges, and 21 at Payette Lake. Anyone could bid; if someone other than the current renter won an auction, the winning bidder would have to pay the current renter appraised value for the improvements.

Judge: Priest Lake cabin owners have no right to continue their state leases

A North Idaho judge has ruled against a family that challenged the auction of its state-owned leased cabin site at Priest Lake, saying cabin owners who rent their ground from the state have no right to continue their leases or to appeal their appraisals prior to a conflict auction. The opinion issued by 1st District Judge Barbara Buchanan doesn’t mention the oddest part of the case – that the remains of five of the family’s ancestors, dating back nearly a century, are interred on the cabin site, and permanent memorials to the five are located there.

Spokane attorney J. Scott Miller said that turned out to be more of emotional issue than a legal issue in the case. “I’m surprised it wasn’t an issue for the individual who bid against the family,” he said. “But … really there’s no legal grounds that I’m aware of.”

Buchanan found that cabin owners have no right to continue their leases once they expire. “The plain terms of the 2012-2013 lease provided that any renewal of the lease was entirely at the discretion of the Land Board,” she wrote. Plus, she found, “Even if the lease could be construed to provide a right of continuation past the expiration of the lease, such right is unenforceable as a matter of law given the Idaho Supreme Court’s recent determination that the Idaho Constitution prohibits the Board from offering a lease renewal to a cottage site lessee without first making the lease available for public auction.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho auctions off cabin site that contains remains of five ancestors of cabin owners

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.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Two Priest Lake cabin owners are outbid for their state leases

Two Priest Lake cabin owners have been outbid for the right to keep their leases on the state land under their lake cabins, meaning they’ll lose them, and the successful bidders will have to pay them for the appraised value of the improvements. Denver resident Peter Mounsey was the successful bidder for a cabin site that had been held by Jan Nunemaker in the Powerline subdivision; he bid $2,000, while she bid only the minimum $1,000 to keep the lease. Mounsey will have to pay Nunemaker the $38,500 appraised value of her cabin. He also had to pay the first year’s rent for the ground, $22,880, to the state in advance.

In the other auction, 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. Hollingsworth will have to pay Sharman the $132,000 appraised value of the cabin; the annual rent for the ground underneath it is $21,720, which Hollingsworth was required to pay the state in advance.

A third conflict auction also was held this week for a cabin site at Payette Lake in McCall; there, too, the current lessee was 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 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.

State cabin-site land exchanges at Priest, Payette lakes likely dead

Land exchanges designed to let a fifth of the lake cabin owners at Priest Lake get ownership of the land under their cabins – while trading the state higher-yielding commercial property – are likely dead, mired in legal and political problems; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. “We share the angst and frustration of the lessees, the board does,” Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said after the state Land Board held an hour-plus closed-door session on the situation Tuesday, but took no action. Last month, the board abruptly rejected two major land exchanges involving lots at Priest and Payette lakes, after a handful of legislators and local officials raised legal and political questions about the moves.

A subdued Tom Schultz, director of the state Department of Lands, said, “The board did not take any action to reconsider the ones that weren’t approved. My understanding is that legally, auctions are the most defensible route forward.” Legal issues raised about exchanges, he said, likely require some clarification from the Legislature.

The state’s been working to get itself out of the business of renting lakefront lots on which the renters build their own cabins; the nearly century-old practice has led to years of lawsuits and protests over what constitutes fair rent in that situation. Proceeds go to the state’s endowment, which largely benefits Idaho’s public schools.

Land Board resets special meeting to Nov. 12

Idaho's state Land Board has rescheduled its special meeting, originally set for yesterday, to Nov. 12 - next Tuesday - at 10:30 a.m. in room WW53 of the state Capitol. The agenda is identical to the one posted for yesterday's cancelled meeting: Extending cottage site leases on Priest and Payette lakes for one year at current rates, and an executive session on potential litigation related to the cottage sites.

Today’s special Land Board meeting canceled

Idaho’s state Land Board had been scheduled for a special meeting this afternoon, but now it’s been canceled. The reason: Attorney General Lawrence Wasden raised concerns about inadequate notice of the meeting; it likely will be rescheduled soon. There were only two items on the agenda: Extending all state-owned lake cabin site leases now scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 for one more year at current rates, allowing time for re-appraisals of land values; and an executive session on potential litigation related to cabin sites.

Last month, the Land Board unexpectedly rejected two major land exchanges intended to swap cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property in southern Idaho, potentially doubling the proceeds to the state endowment. The state’s been working to get itself out of the business of renting lakefront lots on which the renters build their own cabins; the nearly century-old practice has led to years of lawsuits and protests over what constitutes fair rent in that situation.

But the two big swaps were questioned by a handful of state lawmakers and local officials, who noted among their concerns that their counties would lose property taxes on the commercial land when it switched to state ownership, and ideological opposition to the idea of the state owning commercial property, on grounds that the state shouldn’t compete with private business.

However, the state endowment, which operates as a trust, long has owned commercial timber and grazing lands on which it’s issued leases, and in recent years has increasingly expanded into other types of property investments, including office and commercial buildings; its constitutional mandate is to bring in the maximum long-term financial return for the trust’s beneficiaries. The state still could bring back up the land exchanges, but at this point, the prospects are unclear.

Land Board rejects all three exchanges, at least for now

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted to reject all three proposed land exchanges, at least for now. The swaps sought to exchange state-owned cabin sites on Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property in Idaho Falls and Nampa. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden first moved to delay consideration of the exchanges, based on concerns raised today by state legislators and local officials, to allow more review, and also to allow the cabin site lessees involved a chance to get their appraisal values reviewed, something they waived to get into the exchanges. But then state schools Supt. Tom Luna said he wanted to split the questions, because he favored moving forward with the Idaho Falls exchanges, but not the Nampa one.

“I have concerns about the predicament that we have put any number of individuals in that have been, at least in my opinion, following this board’s lead as we’ve moved toward this exchange today,” Luna said. “I understand that people have given up their right to appeal their appraisals, we’re going to address that. But I think at best that’s a Band-Aid to the predicament that we’ve put them in. … Although I have strong issues with acquiring commercial properties and I’ve expressed those before so I won’t say it again … this board has already decided that this is a path we would go down and people followed us down that path,” he said.

But he was the only one to vote in favor of a motion to proceed with the two Idaho Falls exchanges; it died on a 4-1 vote. The Nampa exchange then was rejected by a unanimous vote, and a motion to allow involved cabin-site lessees to get their appraisals reviewed passed unanimously.

Click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller.

Land Board members surprised by human remains on cottage site, but say it’s state property

Before this morning’s Land Board meeting, Eye on Boise queried board members about the upcoming conflict auction of a Priest Lake cabin site that includes generations of human remains from the extended family that’s had its cabin on the state-owned property there, under a state lease, since 1933.

“That’s our property,” said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “We had no idea, but conflict auctions are conflict auctions.”

Gov. Butch Otter said he didn’t know about the remains. “We’ll have to have to make sure this doesn’t become issue for confiscation,” he said. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden noted that the state hasn’t yet been formally served with the lawsuit over the auction. “We’ll take a look at it once we receive the documents,” he said.

State To Auction Cabin, Burial Site

The Starlin family stands to lose a lot more than the lake cabin their great-grandfather hand-built on leased state land back in 1933 when Idaho auctions off the parcel next month. They could be leaving behind generations of family members whose remains have been buried there, too. Marissa Olsson still remembers the moving ceremony in which 30 extended family members shared memories of her grandmother, then each placed a handful of her ashes in a spot that held special memories of her; she took hers to the beach where she made her grandma mud pies, and her grandma obligingly pretended to eat them, a spot the two had dubbed the “Priest Lake Cafe.” Now, the family’s modest cabin is one of four set for conflict auctions next month, and the family has filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho challenging the process, joining another cabin owner also facing a conflict auction/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: Is the state doing the right thing by going ahead with the auction of this property?

State Lands Dept. sets auction for longtime family burial ground at Priest Lake

The Starlin family stands to lose a lot more than the lake cabin their great-grandfather hand-built on leased state land back in 1933 when Idaho auctions off the parcel next month. They could be leaving behind generations of family members whose remains have been buried there, too.

Marissa Olsson still remembers the moving ceremony in which 30 extended family members shared memories of her grandmother, then each placed a handful of her ashes in a spot that held special memories of her; she took hers to the beach where she made her grandma mud pies, and her grandma obligingly pretended to eat them, a spot the two had dubbed the “Priest Lake Cafe.” Now, the family’s modest cabin is one of four set for conflict auctions next month, and the family has filed a lawsuit against the state of Idaho challenging the process, joining another cabin owner also facing a conflict auction.

After an Idaho Supreme Court decision last summer overturned a state law protecting cabin leases from conflict auctions, bids were solicited. Three Priest Lake cabin sites and one at Payette Lake drew conflict bids, meaning someone else wants to bid against the existing cabin owner for a chance to take over the lease. If the outsider wins the bid, the existing cabin owner must be paid for the value of their improvements at the appraised price.

Among the concerns raised in the lawsuit: Though the state is allowing every other cabin owner at Priest Lake a shot at a new appraisal for their cabin site, after the latest ones were challenged as inaccurate, those facing conflict options weren't allowed to object; they also weren't allowed to join land exchanges to try to get ownership of their cabins before the conflict auction. Appraisals determine the yearly rent that cabin-site lessees pay; the family’s rent for the site in question was $7,223 in 2011; it’s proposed to go to $22,880 next year.

But the most eye-catching item in the lawsuit, filed late last week in Bonner County, is the human remains. The cabin site is the final resting place not only for Olsson’s grandmother, but also for her great uncle, her step-grandfather, and two cousins, including a little girl who was stillborn in 1939. Permanent memorials to all five are located on the site. “The whole family is very upset about it,” said Olsson, now an attorney in Seattle; her aunt, Jan Nunamaker, holds the lease now. State Lands Department Deputy Director Kathy Opp said Monday that she knew nothing about the human remains and hadn’t yet seen the lawsuit; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

USFS Finds Unsafe Trees Near Priest

Beaver Creek Campground at the northwest end of Priest Lake has been closed today and visitors are being evacuated after Forest Service inspectors discovered more than 40 hazardous trees that must be removed for visitor safety. The Beaver Creek boat launch and canoe portage areas northeast of Nordman are outside of the campground and will remain open, officials said, but the campground closure will continue through one of the most popular camping weekends of the year. The inspections were ordered after a Sandpoint man was killed by a 200-foot-tall tree that fell on his tent in Stagger Inn Campground during a severe thunderstorm on Sunday night. Kyle L. Garrett, 48, was killed by the uprooted tree northwest of Priest Lake. A 52-year-old woman was injured and treated for non-life threatening injuries/Rich Landers, SR. More here.

Question: Do you consider the safety of your surroundings when picking a camping spot?

Priest Lake campground closed for hazardous tree removal

CAMPING — Beaver Creek Campground at the northwest end of Priest Lake has been closed today and visitors are being evacuated after Forest Service inspectors discovered more than 40 hazardous trees that must be removed for visitor safety.

The Beaver Creek boat launch and canoe portage areas northeast of Nordman are outside of the campground and will remain open, officials said, but the campground closure will continue through one of the most popular camping weekends of the year.

The agency ordered inspections of national forest sites in North Idaho after a Sandpoint man was killed by a 200-foot-tall tree that fell on his tent in Stagger Inn Campground during a severe thunderstorm on Sunday night.

Kyle L. Garrett, 48, was killed by the uprooted tree northwest of Priest Lake. A 52-year-old woman was injured and treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Forest Service officials and local law enforcement are evacuating the Beaver Creek Campground today and suggesting alternate camping sites, said Jason Kirchner, Idaho Panhandle National Forests spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.

Campers with reservations through the Labor Day holiday weekend will be notified by email and given a refund for their advance fees through a federal reservation website, he said.

“Closing a popular campground before a holiday weekend is a terribly difficult decision but, in this case there are too many dangerous trees to remove before the weekend, so closure is our only option to ensure a safe environment,” said Mary Farnsworth, forest supervisor.

Crews have been assessing the conditions of developed recreation sites throughout the Idaho Panhandle National Forest since Monday, Kirchner said. In many sites crews have already identified and removed dozens of hazardous trees from campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads.

Beaver Creek Campground, which is northeast of Nordman, is the only site where danger is extensive enough to require a temporary closure for tree removal, he said.

tHowever, a handful of smaller recreation sites are still being assessed today.

For the latest status of the ongoing storm damage assessment visit Inciweb.org.

A number of alternate campgrounds are available in the Priest Lake area, including Outlet Campground, Luby Bay Campground, Reeder Bay Campground and Osprey Campground. These sites all include “first come, first served” sites and reservation sites.

Check Recreation.gov for reservations and status of these and other Forest Service campgrounds or call (877) 444-6777.

No survey of sites outside campgrounds

The current assessment of hazardous trees does not include areas outside of developed recreation sites so it is vitally important for forest visitors to understand that hazardous trees may be present anywhere on the national forest. Visitors are encouraged to take a hard look at their surroundings when recreating throughout the forest, and especially when selecting a campsite. Hazardous trees are not always readily apparent, but some obvious indicators of dangerous trees include damage to roots, branches or trunk; insect infestations; leaning trees; or dead trees. These types of trees are especially hazardous when the wind is blowing. For more information of identifying and avoiding dangerous trees please download the Idaho Panhandle National Forest’s Hazard Tree Safety Flyer.

For more information on recreation opportunities on your National Forest please contact your local US Forest Service Office.

Cougar report on Priest Lake’s Bartoo Island put to rest

WILDLIFE — Relax and enjoy yourself if you vist Bartoo Island at Priest Lake.  Rumors of a cougar roaming the island have been dispelled.   Here's the report just issued by the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

On Monday, August 12, 2013, campers on Bartoo Island reported hearing and seeing what appeared to be  a mountain lion to the US Forest Service (USFS).  Bartoo Island, located on the Priest Lake Ranger District of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests (IPNF), is one of seven islands on Priest Lake. The island consists of USFS campgrounds and privately owned land.

To ensure public safety, personnel from the IPNF partnered with Idaho Department of Fish and Game and responded to the report. The agencies coordinated with the Priest Lake Sportsman’s Association and volunteers to search the island early on the morning of August 14. The group used hounds to search for the mountain lion, but did not find any evidence that one had been on the island.

While no mountain lion was found, visitors to Bartoo Island are reminded that proper storage of food and beverages can reduce the likelihood of unwanted visitors to their campsites. A mandatory food storage order, covering the Priest Lake Ranger District, is in effect annually from April 1 through December 31. For more information on proper food storage, members of the public are encouraged to visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forest’s food storage web site.

For more information, please contact the Priest Lake Ranger District at (208) 443-2152 or visit the Idaho Panhandle National Forests Website Idaho Panhandle National Forests - Home.

Idaho cancels 3-lot cabin site auction planned for Priest Lake next month

Idaho has dropped plans to auction off three undeveloped lakefront cabin sites on Priest Lake this summer, and instead will look at possibly auctioning up to three other lots on the lake next year. “Those three were not the ideal locations, after on-site review,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the state Land Board this morning. Plus, he said, the department’s appraiser said it would take six to 12 months to properly market lakefront lots for auction.

The auction, initially planned for August or September, was designed to give the state a better sense of the true market value of bare lots on the lake, as it moves toward trading away or auctioning off existing cabin sites on the lake. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho state parks loaning gear to new campers

CAMPING – Idaho State Parks has partnered with The North Face to loan camping equipment at no charge to first-time campers through September.

The Explore Your Parks program is underway at two North Idaho state parks:

  • Hells Gate, (208) 799-5015.
  • Priest Lake, (208) 443-2200.

The offer’s also good at Lake Cascade State Park south of McCall.

New campers can check out tents, tarps, chairs, cooking equipment, lanterns and other gear – everything needed except sleeping bags and food.

The only costs are the normal campsite and reservation fees.

Participants are greeted by staff who will assist with campsite setup and offer tips on camping basics.

Often the state parks also have activities, such as staff-led nature hikes and family activities.

Field report: Kayaking Lion Creek near Priest Lake

PADDLING — Spokane kayaker Brian Jamieson and some friends had a hoot paddling the slick granite slides of Lion Creek near Priest Lake on Saturday, as you can see in his helmet-cam video above.

Lion Creek is a popular destination for Priest Lake visitors, who have worn out the bottoms of many swimsuits slipping down the slides on their butts in lower water.

Idaho to auction off three bare cabin-site lots on Priest Lake

Idaho will auction off three new undeveloped cabin sites on Priest Lake this year, partly to get a sense of the true bare-land values as the state moves toward divesting itself of the numerous state-owned lots there on which renters have built and owned cabins for years. The state Land Board approved the auction plan this morning; the auction will take place in late August or early September. The three lots, all contiguous and lakefront, will be marketed nationwide.

“Although historically there have been 354 cottage sites associated with Priest Lake, an additional 17 have been platted and are unleased and undeveloped at this time,” Thomas Felter, the state Lands Department’s manager of commercial and residential real estate, told the board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials. “We believe a sale auction would help determine the market value for vacant and unimproved lots.”

The state had planned to allow some voluntary auctions of existing cabin sites this year where the lessees wanted to go that route – and perhaps bid against competitors to keep their cabin sites, or get paid for their improvements if a competitor won the bidding - but the need to reappraise all the existing sites has slowed that process down. Felter said none of the existing Priest Lake cabin sites will be ready for voluntary auctions before 2014; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Photographer captures star show over Priest Lake

SKYWATCHING — The Milky Way and the northern lights were putting on a light show over Priest Lake, Idaho, Friday night for Spokane photographer Craig Goodwin.

This is why some people don't sleep after dark. Says Goodwin:

I was surprised to find so few shots of iconic Priest Lake under the stars so I went up last night to see if I could find a good location. I also wanted to try out star pictures on a lake.

The stars were stunning the sky was more colorful than I expected. I'm not sure what the green and purple are. Perhaps aurora borealis. They ebbed and flowed while I was out, with the pink in the lower left disappearing quickly.

I know it looks like I just cranked the saturation but this is pretty close to what came out of the camera at f2.8, 3200 ISO, and 30 seconds exposure.

See this photo bigger and in higher resolution.

See forecasts for auroa borealis activity.

IFG ends first round of lake trout sampling at Priest Lake

FISHING — More than 4,000 lake trout were caught and handled — most of them released — during the first phase of a Priest Lake fisheries assessment that ended May 17, the Idaho Fish and Game Department reports.

Most of those lake trout were tagged and released, but 27 percent were killed.

Here are the numbers pertaining to lake trout:

  • 4,071, total netted by commercial fishermen, including 88 recaptured trout.
  • 2957, tagged and released.
  • 1,114, killed:
    • 696, killed in netting or handling.
    • 418, sacrificed for age and diet research.

In addition, the project captured 3 bull trout, 1 kokanee, 95 suckers, 11 whitefish, and 22 pikeminnow—all of which were released alive, said Jim Fredericks, IFG regional fisheries manager.  

“I understand that the netting project is troubling to many people, but I’d like to stress three things,” he said.
  1. The number of fish handled and killed in the assessment is a very small portion of the overall population.  Annual angler harvest has ranged from 15-30 thousand, so an additional 1,100 fish is not a significant impact to the population.
  2. The netting effort this spring was an assessment, not a suppression effort.  Over the next five years we will continue biological and social assessments as we develop a long-term management plan for Priest and Upper Priest lakes.  This will not be done without extensive public involvement.
  3. This effort represents the first comprehensive assessment of the lake trout population on Priest Lake – ever!  Not only will this give us some understanding of population size, but it will provide a wealth of information regarding age, growth rates, angler harvest rates, along with age/size structure of the population.  These are extremely valuable pieces of information regardless of how the population will be managed in long term.  
Researchers from the University of Idaho this summer will analyze the data, including lab work to identify stomach contents.
 
“We’ve had several anglers turn in tags from lake trout they caught this spring,” Fredericks said. “These tag returns will help immensely with the population assessment, so if you do encounter one, please take the time to call the toll free telephone number and report your catch.” 

Paddlers carefully eye Priest River flows

RIVERS – The best time to float the Priest River comes and goes, but the next couple of weeks will be worth checking out.

At its extremes – up to 10,500 cubic feet per second and down to 165 cfs – the river is basically too high for safe passage except for experts or too low to float without dragging a vessel over the rocks.

  • Ideal flows for experienced canoeists are in the range of 1,200-4,500 cfs (recorded at the gauge near Priest River, Idaho).

During summer through early fall, when most people would be lured to portions of the river downstream from Priest Lake, the water generally is too low to float without bouncing and scraping along the rocks.

However, inexperienced paddlers running inflatable boats can have a safer, enjoyable float at flows in the 600-1,000 cfs range in the Eight Mile Rapids stretch from McAbee Falls downstream.  (See description below.)

Prime times for experienced paddlers farther upstream are:

  • Spring runoff period of May and early June, but be especially ready for cold water and alert for new log jams or strainers.
  • Early October, a glorious, fall-color period when mosquitoes are gone and flows pick up to the 1,200 cfs range as water is allowed to flow over Outlet Dam to lower Priest Lake to winter levels.

Read on for more details and notes on flows from Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club diaries.

Priest Lake cabin owners can get new appraisals

Priest Lake cabin owners who object to new Idaho appraisals that showed the state-owned land under their lake homes ballooning in value this year by an average 84 percent can request new appraisals, the state Land Board decided Tuesday, and if they object to the new values, they can appeal. The catch: Once the new values are set, the leases for the cabin sites again would be offered up for potential conflict bids from others. And for those cabin owners who are already part of pending land exchanges aimed at trading other ground to the state so they can gain ownership of the land under their cabins, new appraisals might not be ready in time.

“People are going to have to decide what’s in their best interest,” said Chuck Lempesis, attorney for the Priest Lake State Lessees Association. But he called the Land Board’s unanimous decision “a very positive step forward” that provides “options for our lessees who are in difficult positions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Past state cabin-site lease auctions have been tumultuous, controversial…

Here’s some interesting historical perspective from Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey: The last time Idaho held a conflict auction for state-owned cabin site leases was in 1987, when the state Land Board auctioned off 22 lots at Payette Lake in an effort to establish market values. It was a failure for the state; all but one of the 22 lots sold to existing leaseholders who paid the minimum bid, Popkey reports.

Plus, he reported, “The only bidders to contest an existing leaseholder were a Boise couple, Al and Sharon Hutchins, whose bids were booed by the crowd at a school gym in McCall. They got the lot, however, paying $46,000, $11,000 over the minimum.” You can read Popkey’s full report here.

Times have changed since then. In 1990, the state had scheduled a cottage-site conflict auction, but it was canceled, after then-Gov. Cecil Andrus signed into law new legislation protecting cabin-site lessees from conflict bids. In July of this year, the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law as unconstitutional.

Back in 1990, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Jerry Evans noted that the whole legality of the new law rested on charging market rents for the lots, an issue the state would struggle with over the following years, repeatedly backing off from proposed big rent increases after protests from longtime cabin owners, who own the cabins they’ve built on the state land. In fits and starts, though, rents rose substantially.

Popkey also notes that 85 percent of the state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake are leased to Idaho residents, but the figure at Priest Lake is just 10 percent. Many of the Priest Lake lessees are from the Spokane area, which is the largest population center near the lake. For Payette Lake, that population center is Boise.

In 2007, Idaho tried to auction off two new lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake with a lease rate double what others then were being charged, 5 percent of value vs. 2.5 percent. It was a flop; no one bid. About 50 existing lease holders attending the auction at the Coeur d’Alene Inn burst into cheers. Now, lease rates are set at 4 percent of value per year; the state is required by the Idaho Constitution to manage its endowment land – including the cabin sites – for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.

Five state cabin sites draw conflict bids

Four cabin owners on state-owned leased land at Priest Lake, and one at Payette Lake, have drawn conflict bidders who want to bid against them in the fall for the right to continue leasing the ground under their cabins. It’s the first time in decades that Idaho has faced that situation on its state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest and Payette lakes; for years, a state law has protected the lessees from conflicting bids at lease renewal time, but the Idaho Supreme Court overturned that law in July as unconstitutional.

“The high bidder, if it’s not the current lessee, would have to pay the value of the improvements before they left the auction,” said Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of Lands. “The current lessee could be the high bidder, or the conflictor could be the high bidder.”

After years of struggle over whether the rents charged for the lake cabin sites met the state’s constitutional requirement to manage its land endowment for the maximum long-term return to the endowment’s beneficiaries – the largest of which is Idaho’s public schools – the state’s moving toward getting out of the cabin-site business. But it still has 354 at Priest Lake and at least 150 at Payette Lake, and every one of those has its lease expiring Dec. 31.

As of Tuesday’s deadline – 5 p.m. Boise time – 343 of the 354 lessees at Priest Lake had applied to renew their leases, or 97 percent; and 134 of the 150 at Payette Lake had done the same, at 89 percent. The fate of the 11 other lots at Priest Lake and the 16 at Payette Lake is uncertain, but Schultz said some of those involve lessees who already were behind on their rent or otherwise in default on their leases.

Over the coming years – and even as soon as this summer - the state will look at land exchanges, auctions and other moves to protect endowment income and get the state out of the business of being a landlord for people’s longtime lake houses. That could allow some of the existing lessees to buy the land under their cabins. But for now, a small number of them could face competitors to keep the plots. “If you’re a lessee, you probably don’t look at it as a good thing,” Schultz said. “If you’re the state, it says at least on those sites, at that value, someone is willing to want to acquire that for that value. To me that’s a positive.”

The five cabin owners who are the targets of the conflict bids haven’t yet been identified; the state will begin notifying them Wednesday. If they successfully complete land exchanges or voluntary auctions to remove the lots from state ownership by October, they could avoid the conflict auctions. Otherwise, the conflict auctions for the right to lease those lots will be scheduled in the fall. Bids start at $1,000 for the right to take over the lease at the existing lease rate; the high bidder wins. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.