The Idaho Board of Land Commissioners heard renewed plans on Tuesday regarding the fate of roughly 28,000 acres of state-owned land near Payette Lake and McCall but made no moves toward a resolution on the controversial issue.
The area includes parcels of state land northeast of Payette Lake and extending south around Little Payette Lake. The area has been at the center of debate for much of the year as the Idaho Department of Lands and commissioners weigh its best use. Per Idaho’s constitution, the Department of Lands is mandated to use state endowment lands to maximize revenue for schools.
The Department of Lands paused its leasing projects in the area earlier this year to assess different usage options.
Trident Holdings, a Boise-based investment firm, earlier this year proposed a land swap of North Idaho timber lands in exchange for the McCall-area parcels. Trident officials again made their case to the land board for private development of the area, promising a combination of development and conservation that it argued would be an economic boon for the Department of Lands.
“This proposal gets to enhance (public) access by creating the state’s largest public park,” Alec Williams, owner of Trident Holdings, told the Land Board on Tuesday.
Williams, who grew up in Idaho, said Trident would commit to preserving public access to land bordering Ponderosa State Park’s North Beach Unit at the northern tip of Payette Lake.
The Trident plan would also include lakefront development and other “development clusters,” according to the firm’s presentation.
The Department of Lands’ real estate services bureau chief Ryan Montoya presented an alternative strategy on Tuesday which would adopt a phased approach. Under the department’s plan, it would move forward with leases, sales or land swaps for parcels in the area that are “ready” over the next one to five years.
“These are properties with high value, low revenue and significant potential for other uses and/or disposition,” Montoya said.
A second phase would allow further research on some properties, and a third phase would focus on long-term revenue options for the remaining parcels. Montoya said “the vast majority of the land within the area of impact” is considered Phase Two land.
PUBLIC LANDS GROUPS, MCCALL RESIDENTS SAID THEY OPPOSE TRIDENT LANDS PLAN
Trident’s campaign was met with fierce rebuttals from conservation groups and McCall-area business owners, including the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Payette Endowment Lands Alliance and Payette Land Trust. All of the individuals who gave public comments during the meeting said they opposed Trident’s proposed land swap. Some opponents said Trident’s projected financial returns are inaccurate — a claim that was made to the land board and the city of McCall earlier this year.
Opponents also voiced concerns about potential damage to the lake and surrounding scenery from development, as well as detriments to tourism and local businesses if the land is privately held. Several commenters called on the Land Board to extend its pause on leasing in the area.
The Land Board did not make any decisions on a moratorium or a possible strategy during the meeting. Instead, it will hear more from the Department of Lands on its strategy proposal at the next board meeting on Dec. 15. An open comment period is planned for January 2021.
Williams told the board that Trident will submit a formal land exchange application “in the coming weeks.”
Gov. Brad Little, who sits on the land board, again reiterated his own attachment to McCall and the parcels in question, which he previously called “a big, hairy piece of ground with all kinds of conflicting issues.”