(Republished with permission from the McCall Star-News)

Gestrin withdraws two bills that sought to alter land policies

‘Trident’ bill would create ombudsman at lands department, ‘Wilks’ bill exempted parcels over 20 acres from local zoning oversight.


The Star-News (McCall)

Two bills sponsored by Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly were withdrawn from the Idaho Legislature last week because Gestrin thought they both needed review.

The ‘Trident’ Bill

A bill brought by Trident Holdings sought to create a new position to oversee state land exchanges has been withdrawn from the Idaho Legislature.

The bill, known as House Bill 587, was pulled by Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, before it could be voted on by the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

“The concept needs more work and input from others,” said Gestrin, who sponsored the bill.

The main change proposed by the bill was for a new ombudsman position to be created within the Idaho Department of Lands. The ombudsman would manage processes for leasing, sales and land exchanges.

The bill was introduced to the committee on Feb. 10 by Brody Aston of Boise, a lobbyist for Trident Holdings.

Last August, Trident’s proposal to trade north Idaho timberlands for 21,378 acres of state endowment land around Payette Lake was rejected by the lands department.

The bill would remedy what Trident founder Alec Williams previously said were flaws in the process used by the lands department to review his company’s proposed land swap.

Williams did not respond to a request for comment on the bill.

The proposal would have increased long-term financial returns to the lands department through “added transparency and accountability in management practices,” the bill said.

More Oversight

The ombudsman would evaluate and make recommendations on all land exchanges, but final authority would still rest with the state land board, the bill said.

Any land exchange larger than 10,000 acres, like the one proposed by Trident, would be subject to a mandatory appraisal by outside experts chosen by the ombudsman.

Trident sought an independent appraisal of the lands included in its proposal after lands department staff estimated the Payette Lake lands to be worth $292 million more than Trident’s north Idaho timberlands.

The lands department rejected Trident’s proposal in August 2021 and land board denied Trident’s appeal of the staff decision.

Trident also filed a lawsuit in Boise challenging the rejection. That lawsuit is currently pending.

The lawsuit says the lands department’s decision was “improper and unlawful” because it violates the Idaho Constitution and was “arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.”

A mandate in the constitution requires the state to maximize long-term earnings from endowment lands, which are managed to help fund public schools and hospitals.

Trident’s proposal sought to trade 21,241 acres of timberland in northern Idaho for 21,378 acres of state endowment land around Payette Lake.

The ‘Wilks’ bill

This bill would have allowed DF Development, owned by billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks of Cisco, Texas, to split and sell 130,000 acres of land they own in Valley and Adams counties without local zoning review.

House Bill 643, would have exempted land splits of 20 or more acres from local subdivision zoning laws on road access and water and sewer service.

Gestrin said he withdrew the bill from consideration due to time constraints and mixed reactions.

The bill had been awaiting a hearing before the House Local Government Committee since Feb. 15.

“The reaction has been split,” Gestrin said. “My question to everyone is ‘would this be a good public policy statewide to set some minimum standards for land splits (to be reviewed)?’”

Last year, DF Development aired plans to split a significant portion of its 69,000 acres of land in Valley County into lots of 20 acres or more.

The Wilks purchased 172,000 acres of private land in west-central Idaho in 2016.

“I do not draft legislation for just one person,” Gestrin said of the company’s connection to the bill. “This was drafted for all landowners across the state.”

A statement of purpose attached to the bill says local review of land splits can prevent farmers and ranchers from passing land down to family members.

“Currently, counties can require all land divisions to comply with highly technical, increasingly expensive, and overly restrictive requirements governing formal subdivisions,” the statement said.

Decision At Question

The bill would have nullified a recent decision by Valley County commissioners to require every land split to be reviewed by the Valley County Planning and Zoning Commission.

That change was made to help comply with federal floodplain regulations that say all land splits should be reviewed, Commissioner Sherry Maupin said.

Previously, lot splits of 20 acres or more did not require approval in Valley County.

DF Development has not yet presented a formal plan for the land it owns in Valley County.

The company told Adams County commissioners last summer it plans to begin splitting off and selling parcels about five miles northwest of New Meadows in the Mud Creek area.

A second phase could involve dividing lands between McCall and New Meadows near Fish Lake Road and Red Ridge, commissioners were told.

Those two areas account for about 75% of DF Development’s 61,000 acres in Adams County, according to county parcel data.

The minimum lot size for the Adams County splits would be 30 acres, DF officials said.

All land splits in Adams County are currently subject to review.

The company’s lands in Valley County are concentrated around Smith Ferry, near Tamarack Resort, along the east side of Long Valley between Cascade and Lake Fork, and surrounding Meadows Valley.

Publication Date: Thursday, March 10, 2022