Idaho state seeks to sell exclusive resort island at public auction

An ‘exclusive’ state-owned island on a mountain lake in the resort town of McCall finally appears to be up for auction later this summer even though county officials object.

The Idaho State Land Board voted unanimously on June 21 to sell Cougar Island, located on Lake Payette, to the highest bidder at auction. The island is located in the resort and recreation community of McCall, where thousands enjoy Lake Payette in the summer and every winter and where snowboarders and skiers descend Mount Brundage.

Idaho Department of Lands officials told Land Board members that Cougar Island is an underperforming asset that is currently split into five leased sites, four of which are unleased. The Land Board is made up of the Governor of Idaho, the Attorney General, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Secretary of State, and the State Comptroller. The Land Board advises the Idaho Department of Lands on how to manage more than two million acres of state endowment land.

Idaho Department of Lands Real Estate Office Chief Josh Purkiss recommended selling the island while the real estate market is still hot to generate financial returns that will benefit public schools and other education programs. State.

He said Cougar Island generated $32,400 last year, while it was valued in the past at $4.8 million.

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Cougar Island “is a very unique island that is an underperforming endowment asset, returning just 0.6%,” Purkiss told Land Board members. “So we would like that to be sold here in early September.”

On May 9, Valley County Commissioners wrote a letter to Idaho Department of Lands officials opposing the auction off Cougar Island, which is a source of drinking water for the community.

“Cougar Island exists as one of Lake Payette’s most iconic features and Valley County Commissioners do not view its private sale as a benefit to Valley County and Town of McCall residents and visitors,” wrote the commissioners.

“The sale of these beloved lands – cherished by generations of Idahoans – would be a permanent and irreversible black mark in the history of decorating our state with preserving special places so that future generations can share these same places and experiences. The weight of the island’s loss will not only be borne by those fortunate enough to be elected leaders, but by all future generations of Idahoans,” the commissioners added in the letter.

Valley County Commissioner Sherry Maupin followed up on the letter and asked Land Board members to delay or cancel the auction. Instead, she asked Land Board members to consider entering into a long-term agreement that would allow Valley County or another public entity to purchase the land over a 20-year period, instead of auction all at once, or consider a land swap. .

“The need to allocate public funds for an undetermined purchase price makes it extremely difficult for public entities to participate in the auction process,” Maupin told Land Board members.

“It’s historic for Payette Lake,” added Maupin. “Having accommodation there would be a huge change, so we’re just asking for some time to try and come up with mitigations, something to do that we can do together for the future.”

Why did Idaho officials vote to auction off an island in the mountains?

At the Land Board meeting last week, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told Maupin he was interested in his ideas and wanted to see if Valley County officials had made a formal request or had an estimate of the returns one of his trades would generate.

Mapuin said no and reiterated that it is difficult for government entities to participate in the auction because the price is unknown until a winning bidder is selected.

“We are trying to raise funds as quickly as possible,” Maupin said.

Wasden said several times during the meeting that his responsibility was to do whatever would generate the most money on the island.

“I’m interested in the market,” Wasden said. “That’s actually what our decision-making is based on, and our goal is to get the maximum long-term financial return.”

When Idaho became a state, the federal government granted or endowed lands to the state on the condition that the endowment lands be held in trust to produce maximum long-term benefits for a series of beneficiaries. , the most important of which is public schools. . The state now owns over 2 million acres of endowment land, including land on Cougar Island.

Wasden asked Purkiss for his advice on how to get the most out of it.

Purkiss recommended selling this fall, while the market is still active and before interest rate hikes and other factors slow things down.

” It is the right time ; I don’t think it’s safe to wait for the next cycle,” Purkiss said. “This, again, is not generating much revenue and selling it is in the best interest of the endowment.”

Hasn’t the state wanted to sell Cougar Island for years?

This isn’t the first time the Land Board has voted to sell Cougar Island or other cottage sites around Payette Lake.

In 2010, the Idaho Lands Board ordered the Idaho Lands Department to “unify” 523 cottage sites on state endowment lands, according to state records provided in the framework of the June 21 meeting. As part of the process, the state created five parcels of land on Cougar Island and established a process for interested tenants of the land to participate in voluntary auctions for the property.

On July 17, 2018, the Land Board voted in favor of the voluntary auction for ownership of the leased sites at Lake Payette, including Cougar Island. Then, in 2020, Idaho Department of Lands staff created the Payette Endowment Land Strategy, or PELS, which identified Cougar Island as a “level one” property expected to be sold within the next one to five. years, Purkiss said.

Due to the potential bonanza of a sale and the vacating of four of Cougar Island’s five locations, Purkiss and officials are advising to sell.

Boise Dev reported in April that the state was again looking to move forward with a Cougar Island auction.

Jim Laski, a lawyer who resides in Bellevue, has held the lease of the only site rented for 10 summers. He said he was interested in buying his leased site and urged Land Board members to go ahead with the auction in July, a date he said officials from the State had previously agreed before calling him recently and saying the auction would be delayed to allow for more commercialization of the island and inspections to see if septic tanks could be installed on one of the other sites not rented.

Laski said he has a valuation and funding commitments on hand that would likely expire if the auction is delayed beyond July.

“It is not fair to me or in the interest of maximizing the yield of the endowment to allow controversy over whether newly created lots should be developed or not to remove or delay me from my ability to participate at the auction,” Laski told the Land Board.

After approximately 45 minutes of testimony and discussion, Land Board members voted unanimously to reaffirm the 2018 decision to auction Cougar Island. Purkiss said a bidder could buy the whole island, but it could also be split up at auction.

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“We will offer it in different ways, and whoever generates the most auction revenue will be the winner,” Purkiss told the Land Board.

On Thursday, Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Sharla Arledge told the Idaho Capital Sun that the auction is tentatively set for Sept. 8. the island is marketed by property marketing company Corbett Bottles.

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