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Eye On Boise

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 rejects multi-million-dollar land swaps
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Land Board on Tuesday rejected exchanging 69 cottage sites on Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property worth some $25.5 million after foes questioned the accuracy of the appraisals for buildings that the state was due to receive.

Board members, including Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, voted to dump two planned swaps.

One proposal, valued at some $23 million, would have exchanged 48 cottage sites on Priest Lake and 10 on Payette Lake that are now owned by Idaho's endowment fund for three commercial buildings in Idaho Falls occupied by an Idaho National Laboratory contractor.

The other swap, valued at $2.5 million, included 11 cottage sites on Payette Lake, to be exchanged for a Nampa office building.

Department of Lands officials argued the swaps would boost endowment earnings for Idaho public schools.

But Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, criticized the appraisals for the properties, questioning whether they were inflated.

Vander Woude also said the state was shifting land on two of Idaho's mountain lakes that was bound to appreciate in value in future years — for commercial property he believes will depreciate and can't guarantee keeping its current tenants who pay top-dollar rents.

"I think we're putting a pretty extreme risk on the endowment," said Vander Wowde, a Nampa Republican who has become a persistent critic of the Department of Land's expansion into commercial property. "I don't think we're getting value. I think we can do better."

Already this year, Vander Woude has led a group criticizing a 2012 land swap — worth an estimated $6 million — that exchanged 43 acres on Payette Lake for an office building in Idaho Falls that also houses operations of Battelle Energy Alliance, which runs the federal INL. That transaction was unanimously approved.

For this one, however, a majority of Land Board members — in addition to Otter, they include Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, State Controller Brandon Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna — agreed that, at minimum, more information needed to be gathered.

Combined, the two proposed swaps would have been among the biggest exchanges for Idaho's endowment fund, which owns more than 2.6-million acres of timber, grazing land and commercial properties that the Land Board manages for nine beneficiaries, including public schools, mental hospitals, prisons and universities.

Idaho Department of Land assistant director Kathy Opp campaigned unsuccessfully for the transactions at Tuesday's meeting.

Acquiring the commercial buildings would not only boost endowment earnings by more than $2 million annually, Opp said, but they'd help the Land Board reach one of its goals: Exiting the tedious business of managing the endowment's portfolio of hundreds of cottage properties on the two lakes where the endowment fund owns the land, but private property owners own the vacation cabins or homes that sit atop the ground.

Brian Rallens, a private real-estate broker who helped organize the swaps, also pleaded for the deal to go through.

"The business sense of this transaction speaks for itself," Rallens said.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, a Land Board member who opposed the swaps but indicated he was at least open to reconsidering, suggested dispatching an independent appraiser, to determine whether the state really would be getting a fair deal.

Emily Callihan, a Department of Lands spokeswoman, said Tuesday her agency is investigating whether it will resurrect the proposals, or if the Land Board's decision is final.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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