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Broad new group forms to find ‘solutions’ to land at center of Trident McCall-area land swap proposal

An array of non-profits and businesses announced a new alliance as the Idaho Land Board considers the next steps for endowment land it controls in the Payette Lake Region.

Dubbed United Payette, the group says it hopes to “spearhead a transparent and inclusive process to conserve Idaho’s endowment lands in the North Fork Payette watershed”.

The move comes as a proposal by Trident Holdings to acquire about 26 square miles of land in the Payette Lakes area, including much of the land in the hills that frame Payette Lake and other areas. Trident said it hopes to buy timberland in North Idaho from a third party and swap it for the McCall-area land. It says it would develop some of the land, and establish conservation easements for other parts of the property.

More then a dozen partners

Public testimony has been uniformly against Trident’s proposals in a number of public hearings held in front of the Idaho Land Board over the past year. The new United Payette group includes more than a dozen organizations, including the Idaho Conservation League, Payette Land Trust, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Brundage Mountain, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and others.

[‘Though the idea was neat:’ Trident tried, failed to buy Brundage, build one of America’s largest resorts]

“These lands provide for ‘a way of life’ for many Idahoans,” Payette Endowment Lands Alliance President Debbie Federday said. “All my life I have lived with the forested backdrop of Payette Lake and am committed to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of our region. I can’t imagine looking out on this beautiful lake seeing luxury housing developments dotting the hillsides and lakeshores.”

“Working together, we must acknowledge the reason why this region is special,” Valley County Commissioner Dave Bigaman said. “The health of our economy is tied to the public lands of Valley County and we need to provide balance between development and conservation.”

The lands at the center of Trident’s proposal are currently owned by the State of Idaho – but aren’t typical public lands like you might think of in a state park or national forest. When Idaho formally became a state in 1890, it was granted and endowed with more than 5,600 square miles of land – or about 6.7% of the total land in the state. Those lands are mandated by both the Idaho constitution to produce a return – primarily for schools.

United Payette said it will work with federal, state, county, and city governments to “help the Land Board fulfill (its) constitutional mandate while conserving the landscape and maintaining traditional uses for Idahoans”.

The group said it hopes to find a proposal to satisfy the Land Board’s constitutional mandate “while protecting the region’s quality of life”.

Land Board sought other options

The Land Board indicated during a March meeting that while it would start to evaluate Trident’s proposal, it also would look for other ideas on the land – and other lands across the state held in the endowment.

“The people around McCall all have a vested interest,” Gov. Brad Little said. “But we need to think of it not just exclusively to McCall but our whole 2.5 million acre portfolio.”

“How do we do a better job of letting people know there is a better way of doing business with us and do it in a more timely fashion,” Jim Elbin with the Idaho Department of Lands asked the board rhetorically. “We have some new opportunities in front of us that we need to make sure we get right. I think we need to lift (the moratorium) to see what opportunities are out there to explore.”

[New details on McCall land swap emerge in less-redacted version of high-stakes proposal]

United Payette member and Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director Brian Brooks said they hope to be one of those opportunities to explore.

“Idahoans love this landscape,” Brooks said. “State lands across the region provide equal and equitable public access for hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, skiers, and more. The forests, streams, wetlands and meadows provide intact habitat for big game and nongame wildlife species and protect the water quality for the Payette Lakes and Lake Cascade. United Payette is seeking solutions now that will prevent poorly planned development tomorrow. Ultimately, we want to protect the outstanding quality of life and public lands that make this region so special.”

Trident’s response

Trident Holdings, which brands its proposal Preserve McCall, provided BoiseDev a statement in response to the United Payette group:

“In reading the mission statement it is hard to understand why the organizers of United Payette oppose the Preserve McCall plan; expanding Ponderosa State Park by over 17,000 acres and forever preserving access and viewsheds for all of Idaho not just the homes currently dotting the hillsides and lakeshore. We don’t understand why they’re opposed to affordable housing, a community center, or our real ideas to improve water quality. We are in the community having conversations with citizens and stakeholders daily and people are realizing our plan effectively addresses the stated purpose of United Payette and serves Valley County well.”

Don Day - BoiseDev editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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