BOISE, Idaho — On Tuesday morning, the Idaho Department of Lands approved a plan for endowments lands around Payette Lake near McCall and voted to open the application period for easement land exchange.
The Payette Endowment Lands Strategy (PELS) was approved by the Department of Lands board, which includes Idaho Governor Brad Little.
Jim Elbin, the division administrator for Trust Land Management outlined what PELS would do and how entities can apply to use the land.
"The PELS provides an overarching guide to land management decisions within the area of impact as growth patterns influence the department's ability to implement traditional land management, and take advantage of opportunities for higher revenue generation," Elbin explained to the board during his presentation.
PELS oversees about 5,500 acres of endowment land within the City of McCall's area of impact projected over the next 20 years, Elbin said, and it is intended to act as "an adaptive strategy" and will be reviewed and updated with new input from stakeholders and market trends.
The Department of Lands Board would have the power to adjust the plan.
Following Elbin's presentation and the public input from about 15 people, including several students from McCall-Donnelly High School who spoke out against the plan, the board voted to approve PELS.
"We had some of the very most profound testimony was about conservation easements, I mean, we've got an obligation to maximize return," Gov. Little said, "and maybe the department and our sage legal counsel can look at that because that was a common [comment]. You know we, we've got a job to maximize income but that doesn't mean we can't explore that."
Elbin's recommendations included that the department works with the Office of the Attorney General to set application revaluation criteria, begin accepting applications and vet applications, including one already submitted by Trident Holdings LLC.
In November, Trident proposed to the Land Board that it swaps private timberland in northern Idaho for up to 44 square miles of public state land in and around McCall.
After the meeting, opponents to the plan held a virtual press conference outlining their issues and concerns with the PELS.
"I was a little disappointed when I watched the live streaming land board's decision," McCall Mayor Bob Giles said. "And I have a lot of faith in the focus group. I'm hoping that the governor and the land board will reach out to that focus group and ask us for more input as the process proceeds."
Valley County Commissioner Dave Bingaman said he hopes that stakeholders' voices are heard throughout the rest of the process.
"I do hope that they continue to listen to us as we move forward I think that you know Controller (Brandon) Woolf seemed like he has a very good understanding of what we were talking about today and there's certainly going to be more discussion on their part," he said. " Again, I just hope that they allow all of us and the stakeholders to be a part of future conversations."
Debbie Fereday, the president and director for the Payette Endowment Lands Alliance, echoed similar sentiments but added that she has concerns about the lack of required local input.
"We really are very concerned about development around the lake itself. These lands should be protected, let's not pretend that they're not special iconic lands because they are, that's how we feel as locals," she said. " And I guess one of the more disappointing things about the PELS is there are no provisions in it really for making it binding in terms of speaking to locals and we hope they'll continue to reach out and do that, to listen to the people that are, you know, involved in this and all of us that have these memories on these lands."
Elbin said a rough timeline for approving applications will be about six months.
"Approving the PELS and providing for an application period will allow for the department to work with legal counsel regarding any questions that come with applications," Elbin said.