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Land board extends cabin rents for 1 year

by Jessie L. Bonner
| December 22, 2010 8:00 PM

BOISE - The state land board decided Tuesday to extend leases for hundreds of homes on state-owned cabin sites at Payette and Priest lakes in North Idaho through 2011.

The lots produce revenue for Idaho public schools and are at the center of a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden earlier this month in 4th District Court.

Wasden sits on the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners with the state's four other top elected officials. He asked a district judge last week to block a new rental policy for the cabin sites.

A judge granted the motion for a preliminary injunction, clearing the way for Wasden to move ahead with a lawsuit challenging the Idaho law under which the cabin site leases have been issued for the past 20 years.

The land board voted to extend the current leases, which expire at the end of December, for one more year.

"It gives us the time we need to chart a course for us to comply with the constitution," Wasden said.

The land board also voted unanimously to set leases, starting in 2012, at 4 percent of the current land value. The current leases are set at 2.5 percent of the current value.

A rental policy that was approved by the land board in March would have raised the cabin rents by 9 percent in 2011 and by 54 percent over the next five years, according to the commissioners who voted for the plan.

Wasden and Controller Donna Jones voted against that policy, arguing that the rent formula fell short of the goal of getting the best financial returns from state endowment land uses.

The lots are on land granted by the United States at statehood, and the land board is required by state law to maximize their economic benefit of public schools, higher education and a state hospital.

The board approved the new rental policy a month after agreeing that the state should divest itself - through land exchanges or sales - from the cabin sites on Payette Lake in central Idaho and Priest Lake in the north. Rents at both lake sites had been frozen in recent years as state officials worked on a new rental policy.

Wasden filed a motion to block the new rents in district court this month after his effort to stymie the new rental policy was thrown out by the Idaho Supreme Court. Justices did not dispute Wasden's argument but found the case should have gone before the lower court.

Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail granted Wasden's motion for a preliminary injunction Dec. 15, temporarily blocking the new rental policy and allowing time for attorneys on both sides to argue their case.

Wasden's lawsuit challenges a state law that was passed in 1990 allowing the cabin sites to be leased without being subject to public auction. Wasden argues that the law conflicts with the Idaho constitution, which requires that Idaho's endowment lands be subject to disposal at public auction.

While the dispute over the cabin sites is set to play out in the district court, the land board voted to further vet a plan to eventually dispose of the 521 vacation cabin lots. The state is scheduled to accept public comments on the proposal for 90 days, starting Thursday.

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