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Eye on Boise: Eye on Boise: With Otter in Hawaii, Denney gets a chance to preside over Idaho Land Board

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney got his first chance to preside over a state Land Board meeting last week, as Gov. Butch Otter was in Hawaii for a conference and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who was acting governor in Otter’s absence, was in Moscow to speak to the North Idaho Legislative Tour.

“It’s pretty much like presiding over any other meeting – I’ve had a little background,” said Denney, former speaker of the Idaho House. “It was OK.”

Otter was off to speak at the annual conference of the Independent Voter Project, a California-based group that backs open primary elections and pushed for California’s open primary. The group is headed by former California lawmaker J. Stephen Peace, who also was the producer and co-writer of the “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” films, in which he appeared as Lt. Wilbur Finletter.

The San Diego-based organization says its goal is “championing the independent minded voter and stimulating the public dialogue,” and it considers itself an “idea factory” and a “public policy venture capital fund.”

Otter also spoke at the group’s Business and Leader Exchange conference in Maui in 2011.

The group reported that its annual gathering for “legislators, industry professionals and policy experts” featured Otter and Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute’s California Center, as opening-day speakers. Both addressed the economy, with Otter focusing on the importance of education. “Education should be the No. 1 priority of every state,” Otter told the group.

State buys land from Potlatch

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously to acquire a nearly 2,400-acre tract of timberland at Maggie Butte, 10 miles east of Kamiah, from Potlatch Corp. for the state’s public school endowment. The $2.5 million to purchase the land comes from the endowment’s land bank, which holds proceeds from sales of state endowment lands including cabin sites that have been auctioned over the past six years.

State Lands Department officials and consultants estimated that the timberland will bring the endowment an annual return, long-term, of around 5.5 percent.

“Although Potlatch has conducted many harvests on this property, a silvicultural operation to put this property back into a fully stocked condition would yield fully harvestable timber in 20-40 years,” Ryan Montoya, real estate services manager for the department, told the Land Board. “This factor is recognized in the financial analysis where there are merchantable stands that could yield returns immediately, and thereafter as management continues. Thus, the acquisition reduces the risks involved with the property and also provides for immediate and sustainable income.”

The department likely would log the existing mature stands in five years, he said, and the rest of the property in 20 to 40 years.

State Controller Brandon Woolf thanked Montoya and state Lands Director Tom Schultz, saying the purchase “hits on perfectly what we worked on” as far as the state’s plan for reinvesting in endowment lands, including reviews by outside experts. “It’s great to see this working the right way,” he said.

The property is in Idaho County. Montoya said lands officials met with county commissioners there and there was no opposition to the purchase.

The land is adjacent to other public school endowment land and land owned by the state hospital endowment. It would ease both management of and access to the existing endowment lands, Montoya said. Under state ownership, the land will remain open to hunting and recreation as it is now.

State cabin-site numbers shrink

Idaho is down to just 51 state-owned cottage sites at Payette Lake after six years of auctions, and 210 at Priest Lake. The state has now sold 262 of its state-owned lake cabin sites at the two lakes combined and has 261 left, state Lands Director Tom Schultz reported to the state Land Board last week. “So we are just over 50 percent of the way through disposing of the different cottage sites,” Schultz said.

Idaho has been phasing itself out of the business of renting state-owned cabin sites, on which the renters built and owned their own cabins, sometimes for generations, after years of lawsuits and fights over what constitutes fair rent. The state’s plan is to reinvest the proceeds from the sales into higher-earning land investments for the endowment, primarily timberland.

The state has auctioned off 117 cabin sites at Payette Lake and 145 at Priest Lake; five of those are still closing at Priest Lake after the last auction. In 2017, more auctions are planned. So far, the Lands Department has received applications for auction from 14 cottage site lessees at Payette Lake and 58 at Priest Lake.

Earnings from Idaho’s state endowment largely benefit the state’s public schools; smaller portions go to state institutions including universities, mental hospitals and prisons.