Payette Lake is a popular attraction in the resort community of McCall. (Courtesy of Idaho Department of Lands)
When Idaho state officials auctioned off an exclusive island nestled on a mountain lake in the town of McCall earlier this month, only one of the five parcels of land sold.
Now that most of Cougar Island, situated on Payette Lake, failed to sell, a Valley County commissioner who opposed auctioning off the state-owned island wants to discuss ways for the county to partner with the state to protect remaining parcels.
Commissioner Sherry Maupin said the commission will meet Oct. 17 to discuss options the county may have for partnering or collaborating with the state on the remaining land on Cougar Island.
“I believe once it doesn’t sell at auction, it opens what they are able to do with the county,” Maupin said in a telephone interview.
Maupin opposed auctioning off Cougar Island in the first place, telling the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners that Payette Lake provides the drinking water for McCall and other communities. She said she didn’t want to see private development on the historic island.
McCall’s resort community attracts tourists and watersports enthusiasts to the lake each summer, and skiers and snowboarders flock to nearby Brundage Mountain each winter.
“Pristine water is something we want to make sure we protect and defend into the future,” Maupin told the Sun.
What led to the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners putting Cougar Island up for auction?
Back on June 21, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners, made up of Idaho’s governor, attorney general, secretary of state, controller and superintendent of public instruction, voted unanimously to direct the Idaho Department of Lands to auction off Cougar Island to the public.
The island is included in more than 2.5 million acres of state endowment trust lands that the Idaho Department of Land manages to maximize financial returns for public schools and other beneficiaries. Some of the ways the state generates money from endowment lands across the state include selling timber, commercial and residential leases, grazing fees, farming, recreational use and selling the land.
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During the June meeting, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said the land board is required to generate the maximum amount of money off the island for its nine beneficiaries, the largest of which is the public school system. Congress granted millions of acres of public lands to the state when Idaho became a state, under the condition that the state manage the lands in a trust to fund beneficiaries like public schools, public colleges and universities, state hospitals and the Idaho Department of Correction’s penitentiary fund.
”I am interested in the market,” Wasden said. “That is actually what our decision-making basis is, and that is our objective is to obtain the maximum long-term financial return.”
On Sept. 14, the Idaho Department of Lands auctioned five parcels of land located on Cougar Island.
Idaho Department of Lands Director Dustin Miller reiterated Wasden’s and the land board’s goal of maximum financial returns for the state during a Sept. 20 land board meeting.
“The department will evaluate next steps for the other parcels and, most certainly the goal remains maximizing the returns on behalf of the endowment beneficiaries,” Miller said.
Cougar Island’s land previously has been available for lease, but only one of the five lots was leased. When it approved the auction, the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners described Cougar Island as an underperforming asset. Idaho Department of Lands real estate bureau chief Josh Purkiss said the island was appraised for $4.8 million, but revenue from the lease generated just $32,400 last year.
Jim Laski, a Bellevue attorney who has held the lease on the parcel of land on Cougar Island for the past 10 years, was the only active bidder and won the auction. State records show the 2.5 acre lot sold for $2,025,000 — the same amount the land appraised for. In June, Laski encouraged the land board to move ahead with the auction and expressed interest in buying the site he has been leasing.
There were no bids on the other parcels of land on Cougar Island, which ranged in size from 1.9 acres to almost 3.5 acres. At the same Sept. 14 auction, the Idaho Department of Lands also sold one of the two non lakefront parcels of state-owned land at Payette Lake, generating another $450,000.
What happens next to Payette Lake’s Cougar Island?
State officials have not scheduled a new auction for the four parcels of land on Cougar Island that failed to sell, Idaho Department of Lands public information officer Sharla Arledge told the Sun on Wednesday.
There are no current leases on the four unsold parcels of land on Cougar Island, Arledge said, so the remaining parcels aren’t generating revenue for the state at this point.
In June, Maupin asked the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners to put off the Sept. 14 auction and instead consider a long term agreement that would allow Valley County or another public entity to buy Cougar Island over a period of years instead of all at once at auction.
Maupin, who works as a real estate agent professionally, said she wasn’t surprised the four parcels of land failed to sell. Cougar Island is wooded and hilly without any roads, so the only way to get to the island is by boat or helicopter. That makes it extremely expensive to build or develop anything there, Maupin said. (The one parcel of land that sold has a three-bedroom house on it).
Maupin wants to revisit partnerships with the state now that there is unsold land from Cougar Island. She stressed that she wants to work collaboratively with the state to figure out a solution for the land.
“There are only two islands in the middle of the lake and Cougar Island is one of them,” Mapuin told the Sun. “We would like to try and protect it. Really, it is our watershed. That whole area is a watershed.”
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