Priest Lake lessees push back against new rates

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SANDPOINT — A cascade of legal actions is trailing in the wake of the Idaho Department of Lands’ plan to boost lease rates at cottage sites on Priest Lake.

Sixteen lessees on the lake filed individual suits in 1st District Court on Thursday that seek to set aside the new rates, which will increase their annual costs by as little as 14 percent and as much as 118 percent.

The lessees are represented by Coeur d’Alene attorney John Magnuson and largely utilize the same format and language. Magnuson argues that the new IDL appraisals are fundamentally flawed and inaccurate.

Magnuson contends in the suits that the new rates bear “no relationship to fair market value.”

The Idaho Department of Lands and the Land Board are named as defendants. Also named are Gov. Butch Otter, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, State Controller Brandon Woolf and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

Magnuson argues that the new appraisals are inconsistent with Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, are based on flawed appraisal instructions and conducted by unqualified appraisers. The lessees further argue that the new rates were the result of manipulated data and are not based on current market and economic conditions.

The rates are also contrary to the Idaho Constitution and exclude market data in comparable geographic, economic and market zones which otherwise support a lower value, the suits allege.

On Friday, Coeur d’Alene attorney Charles Lempesis filed a suit on behalf of the president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, which represents 320 lease holders. Spokane attorney J. Scott Miller also filed suit on Friday on behalf of 17 lessees who fear the new appraisals will cause their costs to increase by as much as 158 percent in some instances.

The Land Board voted in 2010 to divest the state’s interest in the cottage sites over time and reinvest the in land assets that produce higher returns for trust beneficiaries, according to IDL. Transferring the parcels into private ownership is expected to expand the tax base in Bonner County and induce owners to invest in upgrades to cabins, roads and common areas.

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