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‘A big hairy piece of ground:’ Idaho considers land swap on Payette Lake

Regence Blue Shield of Idaho

By Kevin Richert / Idaho Ed News

The state Land Board set the stage Tuesday for a detailed review of endowment lands near McCall and Payette Lake — a review that could ultimately affect money available for education.

The impetus behind the review is a proposed 28,000-acre land swap that would shift McCall-area endowment lands into private hands. The state, in turn, would receive timber lands in North Idaho — and land swap proponents say would provide a better rate of return for the state.

The Land Board took no action on the swap Tuesday. Instead, the panel of five state elected officials put new area land leases on hold, allowing the Department of Lands to explore the state’s options.

In pushing for the land exchange, Boise-based Trident Holdings LLC has commissioned a cost-benefit study. Analysts concluded the McCall-area lands are actually a drain on the state endowment, costing about $276,000 a year to administer. An exchange for Panhandle timberlands would bring in about $2.9 million a year, according to the analysis.

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The expenses — and revenues — can affect a variety of endowment beneficiaries. Public schools are the state’s largest endowment beneficiaries, but higher education and the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind also receive shares from the endowment.

Trident will make a full presentation on the land swap at the board’s July meeting, but the group has already discussed its proposal with individual board members. Trident met with state superintendent Sherri Ybarra and members of her staff on May 28, Ybarra said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Describing the state’s McCall-area holding as “a big hairy piece of ground,” Gov. Brad Little urged the board to take a cautious approach.

“I have a conflict in the fact that I love McCall,” he said Tuesday. “We want to do this right.”

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