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State auctions off N. Idaho cabin sites on Priest Lake

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COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Lands has auctioned off 59 Priest Lake cabin sites, taking in $26.9 million for the state's public school endowment.

Fifty-eight of the leaseholders of state endowment land won in the bidding on Thursday at Coeur d'Alene Resort.

"Twenty-three years as a lessee and having a landlord — now we don't have a landlord," said Denny Christenson moments after signing contracts to take ownership of the property.

Most of the sites went for the appraised value, with just two drawing competitive bidding.

In one, the current lessee didn't bid as two prospective owners bid the price to $123,000 above appraised value. In the other, the current lessee paid $9,000 above the appraised value to outbid another person.

Prices ranged from $200,000 to $665,000. The average price was $446,000 for the cabin sites in one of Idaho's most scenic regions.

One cabin site received no bids. Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan said Friday that the site will be put up for auction again, possibly next year.

"I'm obviously pleased that it's finally over," said Tom Wielgos, who with his wife has lived fulltime at the site since 2001. "I'm willing to pay for that pleasure, to put the state in the rear-view mirror."

The auction is part of the state's effort to get out of the cabin-site renting business by selling land after the five-member State Board of Land Commissioners determined that was the appropriate course. The state is required to get market-rent rates, but leaseholders fought increases, resulting in legal skirmishes.

"The sale of dozens of Priest Lake cottage sites today is a step in the right direction for the state of Idaho," Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, one of the Land Board member, said in a statement. "We're implementing a decision of the Land Board to the benefit of Idaho's public schools while providing resolution for many families eager to move on from leasing the land beneath their homes."

Many of the leaseholders had made improvements, including building homes.

"It seems fair," said 68-year-old Steven Hubbs, who successfully bid the appraised value of $200,000 for the land he has leased for 15 years. "I think a lot of the older people that have owned cabins on the lake for a long time, I think they're at a disadvantage. I don't think they're being treated fairly. But for people who bought recently, I think it's fair."

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