Idaho’s Board of Land Commissioners heard strong pushback against a controversial land swap proposal on Payette Lake Tuesday.
The deal floated by Trident Holdings would trade timber land in north central Idaho for about 28,000 acres of public endowment land surrounding Payette Lake and southeast of McCall.
Idaho’s endowment lands, which is overseen by the state Board of Land Commissioners, were created when it was admitted to the United States in 1889. Commissioners manage, lease and sell the land for the highest rate of return, which is then distributed mostly to Idaho public schools and universities.
Trident’s founder, Alec Williams, said the plan would set aside 90% of that the roughly 28,000 acres for conservation as a park managed by a public or nonprofit entity.
“This proposal protects public access better than keeping these lands as endowments trust assets,” Williams said.
The other 10% would be developed for larger residential homes – some on lakefront land. The proposal anticipates luxury hotels, spas and camping sites would also be part of the development.
In all, Trident estimates the deal would net the state $107.2 million over the life of the agreement, which would span many years.
A temporary moratorium is currently in place that blocks any new lease or sale of land.
But no one spoke in favor of the deal at the meeting.
Jeff Abrams with the Idaho chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said these lands offer some of the best recreational opportunities in Idaho.
“These areas were not intended to be dumped into a database destined for a national listing service for big-dollar investors from California and New York,” Abrams said.
Others, like Valley County Commissioner Dave Bingaman, who was speaking for the county and McCall City Council, said they supported extending the temporary moratorium for at least six months while the board further considers the issue.
Hundreds of people also submitted comments opposing the deal.
In its presentation, Trident also floated the possibility of courts getting involved in the deal, which it says would limit the state’s profits. It estimates it could cost the state $10 million over 10 years, though it called that outcome “unlikely.”
That didn’t sit well with Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, who also supports an extension of the moratorium.
“True collaboration does not begin with one party placing a loaded gun on the table,” Brooks said.
Trident said it will submit a formal application for the land swap in the coming weeks.
The Idaho Department of Lands said it will present a draft plan for how it proposes to handle these parcels next month and will take public comment into January.
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