The Idaho Land Board stopped an attempt by Trident Holdings to keep its land swap proposal alive.
The board of Idaho elected leaders voted unanimously to deny Trident’s request to rescind a decision over endowment land in the Payette Lakes region. In the same action, the board also declined to hold a contested case hearing over the matter.
As BoiseDev reported, Trident asked the Land Board to consider its requests after the Department of Lands denied its application to trade 26 square miles of land around McCall for N. Idaho timberlands that Trident would buy specifically for the trade. Trident also sued for judicial review in Fourth District Court. That separate action is still pending.
During the Land Board’s monthly meeting Tuesday, the board heard from Trident principal Alec Williams, Williams’ attorney, and a real estate broker Williams hired.
Williams alleges errors, bias
Williams laid out a version of the case he detailed on paper in his firm’s request for the hearing. Williams said the Department of Lands made a number of errors in its denial, alleged bias on the part of the department, and asked the board to throw out the denial and go back to reconsider its proposal.
Williams again asked for a third-party appraisal of the land. He says the Department of Lands’ analysis that found the McCall land was valued at $488 million was wrong – and the true value of the land is closer to $40 million. Williams has also not performed an appraisal on the land, he confirmed to BoiseDev.
“There is a simple way to do this,” Williams said. “Rescind the letter, get an appropriate appraisal. Provide meaningful oversight to ensure an unbiased process. We’d really appreciate your help,” he said. “We believe in the thousands of hours and two years of work in order to benefit the endowment and what the beneficiaries deserve.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Lands said it stood by its analysis.
Deputy AG says hearing isn’t warranted
The board also heard from Idaho Deputy Attorney General StevenStrackwho told the board that calling for a contested case hearing was not the right path forward.
“When the board is making decisions about the endowment lands, they don’t have to be at a contested case hearing – only if the board decides a contested case hearing is useful,” Strack said. “There’s no obligation to hold a contested case to question the credibility of the department or the employees or the motivation of the employees. That’s not what the contested case is for. If the board has concerns, it has the ability to direct the department to address those concerns. But putting the matter before a hearing officer in a contested case would not be of any benefit.”
Wasden turns back Trident’s arguments
In making a motion to deny Trident’s requests, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said that launching a contested case hearing would put the judgment of a hearing officer in place of the Department of Lands’ work.
“It’s the department’s responsibility (to evaluate proposals),” Wasden said. “It may be good, it may be bad. They have engaged outside experts. They have reviewed the matter. As a consequence, a contested case hearing would only prolong the matter – not move the matter in a different direction. There ultimately is no legal right in play here because there is not a right to this exchange.”
No other member of the Land Board spoke – but all voted in line with Wasden.
Williams told BoiseDev after the decision he was disappointed in the action.
“I’m not sure how you present more meaningful evidence of the mistakes that occurred in this process than what we represented today. We’re bummed because it’s not just that schools statewide are missing out on $6.5 million next year, it’s that Valley County right now is on the path to miss out on the largest state park in the state’s history, and it misses out on a way to solve its local housing crisis.”
In addition to the park expansion and affordable housing concept, The Trident proposal would build unspecified homes and other commercial developments on the lands if approved.
United Payette, a group that sprung up in opposition to Trident’s proposal, lauded the decision from the Land Board.
“Despite spending more than 18 months trying to gain credibility for its so-called ‘Preserve McCall’ proposal, Trident has failed to garner community or official support for its development plan,” the group said in a release. “This decision by the Land Board is a near-fatal blow to Trident’s proposal, leaving litigation as the only path forward.”