State nervously eyes cabin lease deadline

With two weeks to go until the deadline, the Idaho Department of Lands is still waiting on applications from more than two-thirds of the state’s 522 lakeside cabin leaseholders.

The state is watching closely — because new appraisals and higher lease rates could cause a significant number of leaseholders to walk away from their cabin sites. This, in turn, could affect state endowment beneficiaries, with public education at the head of the table.

About 30 percent of leaseholders have applied, ahead of the state’s April 30 deadline, Lands Department Director Tom Schultz told Idaho Land Board members Tuesday. That rate is lower on North Idaho’s Priest Lake — where state site appraisals have gone up by 84 percent.

The state has 86 applications for its 354 Priest Lake sites, a 24 percent rate, Schultz said.

On Payette Lake, the application rate is somewhat higher, 41 percent.

Schultz has told the Land Board — a policymaking board of five statewide elected officials — to brace for increased vacancies on the cabin sites. He has predicted a vacancy rate of anywhere from 8 percent to 30 percent, but at the March board meeting, he said the state could absorb a 47 percent vacancy rate and still come out ahead.

The higher appraisals are one of two big changes on the cabin lease sites. The second is a rule change allowing “conflict bidding” — which means a new suitor could come in and outbid an established leaseholder. No conflict bids have been filed to date.

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Leading up to the April 30 deadline, leaseholders can review the state’s new appraisals and protect factual errors, such as lake frontage. The appraisals aren’t made readily available, but leaseholders can file a public records request for the paperwork.

According to Schultz, 255 leaseholders have requested copies of their appraisals, accounting for nearly half of the cabin sites.

The uncertainty over the cabin leases produced one moment of levity Tuesday. Gov. Butch Otter, the Land Board’s chairman, asked Schultz if any leaseholders had said their appraisals were too low.

“Not yet,” deadpanned Schultz.

Said Otter: “That was a rhetorical question.”

More endowment news (from Betsy Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review): Land Board boosts its timber sale target.

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