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Thursday, October 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Just one lot draws competitive bid at Priest Lake state cabin-site auction

Sandy beach at Priest Lake cottage site that sold at auction over the weekend for more than $1 million (State of Idaho)
Sandy beach at Priest Lake cottage site that sold at auction over the weekend for more than $1 million (State of Idaho)

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By Betsy Z. Russell

A 1.7-acre slice of North Idaho lakefront heaven on Priest Lake – with just a rustic, one-bedroom cabin on it – drew the only contested bidding at a weekend auction in which the state of Idaho sold off 39 lakefront cabin sites.

The cabin owners, a Seattle couple who had been leasing the land from the state and whose family had had the cabin since at least the 1970s, were outbid by a Coeur d’Alene physician who was willing to pay $1.107 million for the lakefront property – $367,000 more than its appraised value. The successful bidder also will be required to pay the cabin owners the $44,200 assessed value for their 870-square-foot cabin.

All 38 other cabin sites sold for the appraised value to the current lessees, who own the cabins on the previously state-owned lots. It’s part of the Idaho Department of Lands’ move to get out of the business of renting lakefront cabin sites, on which private owners lease the ground and build and own their own cabins. It’s a business that’s led to multiple lawsuits over the years, as cabin owners contested rising rents for the ground, and the department cited the Idaho Constitution’s requirement that state endowment land be operated to raise revenue for schools – not to benefit lessees.

Two other lots drew no bids – the cabin owners had nominated them for the auction, but didn’t bid.

With the weekend auction at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, Idaho has now auctioned off 228 cabin sites – 141 of those at Priest Lake, and 87 at Payette Lake near McCall. The state endowment has collected $97.7 million in proceeds from the auctions – $18.9 million of that on Saturday.

Idaho’s state Land Board, which is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter and consists of the state’s top five elected officials, has voted to invest the money into higher-earning investments, focusing on timber land. The state endowment currently owns nearly 1 million acres of timber land, and made $68.2 million from logging in 2015.

The state also maintains a permanent endowment fund, which totals $1.87 billion; its earnings, like those from the land, go the endowment’s beneficiaries, the largest of which is Idaho’s K-12 public schools.

Idaho received grants of more than 3.65 million acres of land in trust from the federal government when it became a state. About 33 percent of that land has been sold off, most of it between 1900 and 1940; the money went to the permanent endowment fund. The state endowment now owns 2.44 million acres of land.

When endowment land is sold, the money goes initially to the state’s Land Bank fund, which holds it for five years. If it hasn’t been reinvested into other land by that point, it reverts to the permanent endowment fund.

The Land Board has authorized auctioning off nearly another 300 state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes by 2019. It’s also considering auctioning off some unleased cabin sites at Priest Lake this fall.

At Saturday’s auction, the lot that drew the competitive bidding was the priciest lot, but also the one with the lowest-valued cabin on it. The priciest property in total was a $615,000 lot with a $1.2 million, 4,948-square-foot cabin; it went to the cabin owner for the appraised value. The lowest-valued lot in Saturday’s auction sold for its appraised price of $300,000.

Sharla Arledge, Department of Lands spokeswoman, said, “The auction went smoothly.” And even with the one lot that drew competitive bidding, “There was no apparent drama.”

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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