Idaho sells high-end Cougar Island at Payette Lake near McCall


The island has five lots, one of which is rented. State officials plan to offer the lots individually or the island as a whole and take whichever brings in the most money.

MCCALL, Idaho — Idaho officials voted Tuesday to auction off a 14-acre “upscale” island in Payette Lake, near McCall’s vacation and second home town.

Republican Gov. Brad Little and four other Idaho Land Board members voted 5-0 to reaffirm an earlier decision by the board to sell the island, potentially this fall.

The island has five lots, one of which is rented. State officials plan to offer the lots individually or the island as a whole and take whichever brings in the most money. Only two of the five lots are capable of having a septic tank, officials said, limiting the value of the other three lots to “campsites” and likely making selling the whole island the best option.

“I feel a little sorry for the current tenant,” Little said after the meeting. “I think someone with really deep pockets is probably going to buy (the whole island) and only put one spot in there.”

The state constitution requires the Land Board to maximize long-term financial return, primarily to benefit public schools. State land managers say the island is underperforming and selling it is in the best interest of the state.

Jim Laski of Bellevue is the current leaseholder on island land, which has a cabin, and told council that he and his family have been good stewards and take watershed protection seriously. He asked the board to go ahead with the auction in hopes of buying the lot from the state.

“Ten summers ago I had the opportunity to acquire the lease on lot two of Cougar Island,” he told the board. “Since then, my family and I have spent as much time as possible during the summer enjoying the island and the unique beauty that an Idaho mountain lake has to offer.”

Valley County Commissioners opposed the auction and asked for more time so they could ask for donations and work out a financial arrangement so the county could purchase the island. The commissioners also proposed a possible exchange of land for county land.

“Cougar Island is a historic gem in Valley County,” Valley County Commissioner Sherry Maupin told council. “This island, which has been made accessible to the public, is one of many areas used to improve our recreational economy.”

But the council went ahead with the auction.

Critics of the decision to auction the island say there are better ways to handle the situation. For example, Valley County commissioners, advocacy group United Payette, and the Idaho Conservation League are hoping to acquire the land to keep it from being taken private.

“We would like to delay this sale, give it a little more time, and see if the County and Idaho Conservation League and United Payette, which is a coalition of organizations and interests, can come together and identify an alternative. approaches, whether it’s transferring it to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, working on a possible land swap with the forest service, or potentially a conservation purchase that would keep that land open to the public for future generations,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, director of external relations for the Idaho Conservation League.

Oppenheimer says he understands the Land Board’s constitutional responsibility to maximize revenue on endowment lands, but they believe the island auction is simply not necessary.

“We are concerned that selling this gem of an island in the middle of payment will really send the wrong message and end up ending in more no trespassing signs. There has been a lot of concern in recent years with the arrival of large and wealthy landowners buying up land that has always been open to the public. And we’re afraid this is just another example of that,” Oppenheimer said.

Members of the Land Board were concerned about the timing of the sale of the property, with property sales appearing to slow recently.

But estate agent Mark Bottles, who manages property auctions for the Land Board, said the time had come to sell the island, and as a whole rather than as five individual lots.

“For these high-end assets, we’re still seeing activity,” Bottles said, noting that he started getting calls about the island following reports of a possible auction. “They were interested in (the island) as a whole, not as a subdivision, as they called it. They would prefer something more exclusive.”

Statewide, the Land Board directs the Idaho Department of Lands in managing approximately 3,900 square miles (10,100 square kilometers) of state-owned land.

The state manages approximately 285 square miles (740 square kilometers) around McCall, which includes Cougar Island. About 115 square miles (300 square kilometers) is primarily managed as timber land.

But land values ​​have skyrocketed in recent years, exceeding the value of state-owned timberlands in the McCall area and forcing the Land Board to consider selling the land to fulfill its obligation to generate the most revenue. money for the beneficiaries. Other federal lands face similar pressures.

Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League said his group and others would like to see the auction for the island delayed until a conservation agreement can be reached.

“This is a highly publicized property with high conservation value,” he said. “We would like to see it preserved in some way to have it preserved for the benefit of all Idahoans.”

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