Firm seeks to keep massive McCall land swap deal alive
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An investment firm whose land-swap proposal in the McCall area was rejected by state land managers sent a letter Saturday to Republican Gov. Brad Little and other state officials seeking to reverse the decision.
Trident Investments contests the Idaho Department of Lands’ valuation of the lands involved, and it wants the state to select an independent, professional appraiser for transparency and fairness, with Trident paying the costs.
Trident in the letter states that it disagrees with the reasons the Lands Department’s “staff gave for the dereliction of their duty as well as the bizarre factual assertions” contained in the rejection letter the Lands Department sent Trident on Tuesday.
State officials said the state’s 33 square miles (85 square kilometers) are worth $366 million, while the 33 square miles (85 square kilometers) of private timberland in northern Idaho offered by Trident are worth $74 million. That’s a $292 million difference.
The dispute could have precedent-setting ramifications for state lands that must be managed to produce money, mainly for public schools, amid skyrocketing land values.
Overall, the Land Board manages 3,900 square miles (10,000 square kilometers). Offers can be made for buying, trading or leasing state land, triggering a possible review by Lands Department staff. The Land Board has some discretion, but is constitutionally mandated to maximize return on state land over the long run.
The Land Board’s financial advisor has suggested the board aim for a 3.5% annual return on its lands. If the McCall area lands proposed in the swap are worth $366 million, that’s $12.5 million annually that should be coming in.
That opens the potential for auctioning off lands in a piecemeal fashion. That’s something Trident contends could be avoided with its land swap that includes creating the state’s largest park and helping solve some of the area’s housing shortage problems.
The company argues that state land managers vastly overestimated the land’s value because they took the value of developed areas and applied it to the entire area, much of which is not developed.
Trident also took issue with the Lands Department assessment that the McCall-area land was appreciating much faster — up to 28% annually — than the northern Idaho timberland that’s appreciating at up to 13%.
“This is a national trend fueled by record-low interest rates and COVID demand for recreation-based property,” the company wrote. “This is not a sustainable rate of growth and should be normalized over a longer period of time.”
A Lands Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail message Saturday.
The Lands Department in the rejection letter also noted that Trident didn’t provide evidence it could acquire the property in northern Idaho for the trade. Trident said that was “not a legitimate reason for a negative recommendation.”
PotlatchDeltic owns at least some, if not all, of the private timberlands involved in the swap, based on maps associated with the deal. Anna Torma, vice president of public affairs, said the company “does not comment on whether we are in discussions or particulars surrounding potential transactions.”
A group called United Payette has formed with the goal of preserving the McCall-area state lands where the Land Board manages about 285 square miles (740 square kilometers) around McCall, with 115 square miles (300 square kilometers) primarily as timberlands.
Jonathan Oppenheimer of the Idaho Conservation League, one of the group’s member organizations, said a patchwork of strategies involving conservation easements, recreation easements, acquisitions to Ponderosa State Park and potential trades with the U.S. Forest Service could be used.
“United Payette is interested in finding solutions that can protect public access, recreation use and water quality while still meeting the Land Board’s constitutional obligations,” Oppenheimer said.
The Land Board is meeting Tuesday. The McCall land swap is not on the agenda, and there is no executive session planned. The board is scheduled to vote on a different land swap, that one in Idaho County involving 568 acres (230 hectares) of state land valued at $1 million.