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Trident, state outline McCall land ideas to Land Board; Community groups, businesses testify in opposition

Idaho's Biggest Toy Drive
Future in Focus: McCall

The Idaho Land Board formally heard about two proposals for a 44-square-mile piece of land in the McCall area. BoiseDev outlined the two concepts last week – including a large-scale trade proposal from Trident Holdings, as well as an internal concept from the Idaho Department of Lands.

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Though the session only provided information to the board, and it took no action, it did provide some detail on what could come next. It also gave the public a chance to respond — and nearly a dozen groups and individuals spoke out – each and everyone in opposition to Trident’s concept.

Formal exchange proposal soon

Alec Williams, who heads Trident Holdings, said his group would submit a formal proposal for a land swap largely outlined in the proposal in coming weeks.

“This is a starting point in a very long process,” he said to the Land Board. “We don’t want the community to just have a say, but to drive the process. The Idaho Land Board can get out of this very painful process. Deciding what to keep and what to sell is death by a thousand cuts.”

Most of the rest of Williams’ presentation stuck to the details shared with BoiseDev last week.

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The Idaho Department of Lands also outlined its concept for the land, as directed earlier this year by the Land Board. Currently, a moratorium on new leases or sales is in place while the board considers next steps. Ryan Montoya with the Idaho Department of Lands noted that the state’s concept doesn’t necessarily preclude a proposal like Trident’s.

Members of the Idaho Land Board, as well as Trident Holdings’ Alec Williams (bottom center left). Via Idaho PTV

[Deep Dive: State, Trident outline separate plans for future of McCall endowment lands]

Testimony: all opposed

The board heard from ten individuals who signed up in advance to speak on the topic. Many of them represented larger groups. Each person who spoke said they did not favor the Trident proposal – including a Valley County elected official, the Idaho Conservation League, Payette Land Trust, Payette Endowment Lands Alliance, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Pilgrim Cove HOA, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and business owners from Yahoo Corrals and Burgdorf Hot Springs.

Craig Utter with the Payette Land Trust noted that there are currently only two piece of undeveloped shoreline left. He urged the board to consider conservation options – and said he felt his group and others would step up with dollars to help put the land into conservation easements if that’s what it took.

“We’ve been slow and deliberate in keeping our position, always keeping the land in mind.  Sadly these two areas constitute the last two areas of public shoreline,” he said. “The lake has done its fair share for the economic return of the area. We believe the remaining open space holds a higher value than development.”

Jonathan Oppenheimer with the Idaho Conservation League urged the board to take a slow and steady pace.

“We would again encourage the land board to consider extending the moratorium for at least a period of six months to foster further discussion,” he said.

Brian Brooks with the Idaho Wildlife Federation said the Trident proposal has touched off significant community response.

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“It has energized Valley County residents and residents across the state,” he said. “No other land issue has inspired this many people to take action. We’ve had 7,000 people take action – frankly we can’t keep up with them.”

He noted that Trident’s proposal makes a number of claims he says his group cannot substantiate. Brooks said that though Trident says it wants the community to drive the process, he notes that one of the scenarios outlined by Trident in its proposal mentions the possibility of litigation. He says that indicates Trident “threatens to sue if they don’t get their way.”

“True collaboration does not begin with a loaded gun on the table,” he said.

Jeff Klausmann with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said his group was also opposed.

“These endowment lands present some of the best recreation areas in the state. We agree with county commissioners, P&Z and City of McCall, we need to extend the moratorium and we urge a collaborartive process with the city and county.”

He said that the lands have long been apart of the fabric of McCall, and worried about the Trident plan for them in the future.

“These areas weren’t intended to be dumped into a database to attract investors from California and New York,” he said.

Elected official comments

Valley County Commissioner Dave Bingaman urged caution, after a joint City of McCall/Valley County meeting last week.

“The decisions made on the IDL lands will have specific impacts on our area.  There is much to be concerned about,” he said. “Once the decision is made, there is no going back. We ask the Land Board to carefully consider this decision with the county and city. We respectfully ask you extend the moratorium.”

Business owners express concern

Bob Looper, who recently took over ownership control of Brundage Mountain, spoke on behalf of the Pilgrim Cover Homeowners Association.

“(Trident’s proposal) would swap out the Land Board and staff with a private entity,” he said after noting the HOA was not in favor of Trident’s plan. “We all know that the area around the lake is very special.  Payette Lake is the crown jewel of Idaho.”

Sky Wilson, who owns Ya-Hoo Corrals, says her business operates off of Warren Wagon road with a lease of endowment lands. She fears her family-owned business would be in jeopardy if Trident’s proposal went through.

“The trail system and bridges in this area used for hiking, biking and riding are maintained by Ya-hoo and are irreplaceable,” she said. “What will happen to such a uniquely located business with high value and high volume tourism? What will happen to me, and where will I go? What will happen to another small business in this time in Idaho?”

Another business owner, Nick Harris of Bergdorf Hot Springs, noted his family has owned the long-running business, which dates back more than a century. He said he worked on Wall Street, and looked at Trident’s proposal and challenged some of its assumptions.

“Nearly 50 pages of the proposal is a series of confusing calculations and arguments,” he said. He called into question the value of the timber assets that Trident hopes to buy and swap with the state.

Land Board mum

Members of the Idaho Land Board only asked a few questions – primarily on the Idaho Department of Lands’ concept proposal.

Governor Brad Little said that the Department of Lands and Idaho Land Board should not just consider the McCall area lands with their actions – but the rest of the endowment as well.

“Anything that the board does on this parcel, we need to think about the ramifications on that policy on the entirety of that portfolio that myself and my four fellow land board members have responsibility for.”

As promised, the meeting adjourned without specific action.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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