- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Land Board on Tuesday approved selling most of the commercial properties owned by the Idaho Department of Lands as part of a plan to get rid of holdings that had become a political liability for some of its members.

The board voted 5-0 to sell 11 properties in Boise, three in Idaho Falls and one in Heyburn worth about $25 million.

A financial consultant, CenturyPacific, said selling the properties at a time when real estate prices are high benefits the state more than holding onto them. The consultant said the current market value is 15 percent more than if the Land Board retained the properties.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said that means, in approving the sale, the board was meeting its constitutional requirement to maximize profit over the long term.

“It’s the numbers that should be driving the decision making here,” Wasden said.

Money generated by endowment lands mostly goes to public schools.

Wasden, State Controller Brandon Woolf and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter faced criticism in the last election from challengers who contended state-owned commercial property unfairly competes with private businesses.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little chaired the meeting Tuesday and said Otter was out of town, but didn’t provide details. Otter’s spokesman didn’t return a call to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“When you’re competing in the real estate market with private industry, I just don’t think it’s a very good asset type,” Little said after the meeting.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who replaced the retiring Ben Ysursa on the board, has been a critic of the Land Board managing commercial real estate and was happy the properties would now be auctioned, likely within the next two years.

“Hopefully we can procure at least two bidders in each of those auctions,” he said, noting the properties wouldn’t be allowed to go for less than the appraised value.

On the advice of the financial consultant, the board agreed to retain Capitol Park Plaza, which contains offices for the Idaho Department of Lands, and two downtown Boise parking lots. CenturyPacific said those three properties would meet long-term office needs.

On a different decision that also involved real estate, the board voted 5-0 to move ahead with a plan intended to wrap up by 2019 the state’s efforts to sell hundreds of state-owned residential cottage sites on Priest Lake and Payette Lake in northern Idaho.

The plan involves 253 cottage site lots at Priest Lake and 84 at Payette Lake. The plan gives lease holders the opportunity to take part in voluntary auctions for ownership of their leased lot by the end of 2019. More than 180 cottage sites have been auctioned already, most of those in the last two years.

In other business Tuesday, the Land Board voted 5-0 to update an agreement with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management involving a land swap involving about 50 square miles of state land in southwest Idaho. The board in the same vote approved deferring leasing of mineral development of those state lands until Dec. 31, 2017, to avoid activity in areas considered key sage grouse habitat.

Most of the state land is within a federally designated wilderness and state officials would like to trade for more accessible land now under federal management.

Deferring mineral development will give the state a chance to swap state land that contains sage grouse habitat. Mineral development on those lands could weaken the state’s plan to protect sage grouse habitat.

“We want to make sure we don’t do anything to jeopardize the sage grouse plan,” Little said.

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