Update – October 19, 2021
In October 2021, ICL learned that the River Club is no longer pursuing expansion of the golf course onto islands in the Boise River. Thanks to the 3,547 individuals who signed the petition in opposition to the proposal.
In late 2020, ICL learned about a proposal to lease state-owned lands in the Boise River. The River Club, formerly Plantation Country Club, has proposed expanding their private course onto an island in the middle of the Boise River.
Even though much of the island lies below the river’s high-water mark and is subjected to regular flooding, the proposal has been under serious consideration by the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) since at least January 2020. The proposal would require an IDL lease, along with other state and federal permits.
The State of Idaho owns the beds and banks of rivers, oftentimes including islands located within the floodplain. But these aren’t like other endowment lands, which are constitutionally-required to maximize revenue over the long-term. That’s because they are “public trust” lands and must be managed to protect public benefits, including recreation, access, fishing, and navigation.
Unfortunately, the proposal fails on all fronts.
The undeveloped island is located just upstream of the Glenwood Bridge in Garden City, along the popular Boise River Greenbelt. At least two bridges would be constructed to connect the private country club, and significant excavation and landscaping would transform the natural Cottonwood Forest with fairways, tee boxes, and three golf course holes.
At a minimum, the proposed project would require a lease between the River Club and IDL for construction, operation, and maintenance, including the establishment of manicured and fertilized greens, fairways, and rough. Three golf course holes – including tee box, fairway, and green – would be established on the natural island and adjacent undisturbed lands within the river’s floodplain. The project would also likely require permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Quality, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Garden City, and Ada County.
The development of a private golf course on a natural floodplain would restrict public access, impact access for fishing and navigation, and lead to other direct and indirect effects to the floodplain, water quality, wildlife habitat, and other values.
Given regular flooding of the island, ICL is concerned that invasive work to stabilize the river bank would be inevitable, resulting in streambed disturbance, heavy equipment, and “emergency measures” to protect the country club’s investment.
Despite IDL’s issuance of an initial permit and discussions for over 10 months, no public disclosure or input has occurred.
While there are significant concerns over the direct negative impacts to the Boise River, there are also concerns over the lack of government transparency and the appearance of special access to government decision-makers for well-connected individuals.
Especially in a case where we’re talking about a gem of the Treasure Valley – the Boise River and the Greenbelt – and safeguarding the river’s health, state officials have a special duty to protect the public interest. Unfortunately, their actions again appear to be tilted in the direction of wealthy private interests instead.
That’s why we’re asking Governor Brad Little and the Idaho Land Board to shine a light on this proposal at their next meeting. A petition with over 3,000 names has been sent to the Land Board, Governor Little’s office asking for public disclosure and involvement.,
December 23, 2020 Update: After further discussions with the owner of the River Club and other representatives, the proposal has been revised. Current plans have been somewhat scaled back, involving the development of approximately 4 to 5 acres of the island for the golf course. ICL continues to have significant concerns with the proposal. We also learned from a public records request that even though the land is owned and administered by IDL, which is responsible for protecting public benefits, a statement from IDL states that “The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) is the primary state regulatory authority in this matter.” We’ll continue monitoring the situation and planning to submit the petition to regulatory entities in the new year.