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Eye on Boise: Idaho cabin land swaps stall

BOISE – Three land exchanges designed to swap state-owned lakefront cabin sites for commercial property elsewhere were unexpectedly rejected by the Idaho State Land Board last week, after state lawmakers and local officials from Canyon County raised objections.

The board could still consider the exchanges again after further review, but the prospects are unclear. Two of the exchanges would have swapped cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes for commercial property in Idaho Falls; the third would have traded cabin sites for a commercial property in Canyon County. They were designed so the state would get commercial property that generates more income, and the lessees would get title to the land under their cabins.

The board also voted unanimously to allow cabin site lessees who had signed up for the exchanges, and thereby waived their right to appeal appraisals on the value of their sites, to seek review of those appraisals now.

State Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, was among those objecting to the exchanges. “I understand the process of what we’re trying to do to get rid of the lakefront properties,” he told the Land Board. “My problem is I don’t think we’re getting value. I think we can do better. … I would urge the Land Board to table this ’til we can get some better answers.”

Shutdown angers Otter

A day before the federal government shutdown finally ended, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had had enough. He issued a blistering statement saying Idahoans are being hurt by “federal dysfunction and mismanagement,” and he’s plenty mad about it. “Many thousands of Idahoans woke up today desperately uncertain about the future, much less their next paycheck,” said Otter, a former congressman. “Congress and the President are so focused on the political battle inside the Beltway that they’re ignoring the very real problems they’re creating on Main Street.”

Otter said as the shutdown continued, states like Idaho were trying to do “what we can to backfill such programs as highway construction and repairs, but for the most part we aren’t even allowed to step into the breach.”

Otter said, “Our pleas are falling on deaf ears, and our patience is spent.” He announced he would head to Washington, D.C., to “speak directly with Cabinet members about Idaho’s biggest on-the-ground challenges,” but said he was “less than optimistic about the response.”

Mini-megaloads roll

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Idaho Transportation Department announced four oversized loads from Omega Morgan would travel up U.S. Highway 95 from Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene, starting that night at 9:30, en route to Interstate 90 to Montana. “Each shipment is 20.1 feet wide, 15.6 feet tall, 75 feet long and weighs under 80,000 pounds,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush reported.

Remember that Omega Morgan has had a giant water evaporator bound for the Canadian oil sands sitting at the Port of Wilma in Clarkston, stalled by a federal court order, since it sent a similar one across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho in August for a division of General Electric. The company argued that the megaloads couldn’t be made smaller and thus had to travel over the scenic river corridor, which unlike the I-90 freeway has no overpasses that limit load heights.

The Nez Perce Tribe and Idaho Rivers United sued the U.S. Forest Service, which has jurisdiction over designated Wild and Scenic Rivers corridors, and a federal judge halted the shipments until the Forest Service has completed a corridor study and consulted with the tribe. Last Friday, the company filed a notice of appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The equipment shipped last night is different than the equipment proposed to travel U.S. 12,” ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten said. “That equipment is still at the Port of Wilma.”

However, locals reported that the evaporator unit still at the port appears to have had several large sections removed.

Exemption rises

Idaho’s homeowner’s exemption from property tax is going up, after dropping for four straight years. The maximum exemption for an owner-occupied Idaho home in 2014 will increase to $83,920, from the 2013 level of $81,000. It’s a sign of recovery in Idaho’s housing market, as the exemption is tied to the Idaho House Price Index, reflecting sales.

“The current index shows a 3.6 percent increase in house prices for Idaho,” said Alan Dornfest, property tax policy bureau chief for the Idaho State Tax Commission.

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