An Idaho Auction

There are silent auctions, noisy auctions, foreclosure auctions, sealed-bid auctions, art auctions and estate auctions, to name a few. They have the common elements of a seller, many prospective buyers, a system of bidding, and a mutually understood conclusion: the person willing to pay the most for the sale item wins.

Except here in Idaho.

Sometimes we resent being used as a placeholder for "the ends of the earth," or "a backward outpost where civilization is only marginally developed." We think we're better than that, after all. Even if people aren't sure where we are (Great Plains? Midwest?), we're not just a bunch of ignorant fools. Are we?

When it comes to auctioning rights to state land, for the benefit of our educational system, we sure have something bass-ackward.

The Air Force bid $10 to lease 900 acres in the Owyhee mountains. The Owyhee Canyonlands Coalition bid five hundred times more, $5000.

Well, they must be a bunch of environmental wackos, eh? What would they want with land in the Owyhees? Maybe they're just trying to obstruct the expansion of the Air Force's bombing range that the public consistently, and persistently resisted.

Hey, didn't we win that one? Wasn't that defeated?

Well, yes, yes it was. But last July, our Senator (now King) Dirk Kempthorne managed to use the cowardly and sleazy tactic of a rider on a federal bill - the Defense Authorization bill - to turn a land deal with the BLM, pay off local ranchers, and turn 12,000 acres of the Canyonlands into a high-tech play area. Ranching and Defense are kinda like Motherhood and Apple Pie around here.

(The full list of garbage in the omnibus looks like a reprise of Reagan's 1984 "environmentalism.")

The OCC had a well-thought-out management plan, with the stated intent of monitoring the Air Force's activities' effects on plants and wildlife. Since the EIS process was effectively subverted, why not a volunteer effort to keep track of things, and chip in a little extra to the state Education budget.

But no, our attorney general, Al Lance, wouldn't accept the coalition's bid, and felt the need to castigate them for trying to "use the (Land) Board as a pawn in a social policy debate," as KTVB put it. Never mind that the board has the legal mandate to manage Idaho lands for the best return for Idaho schools.

So we had an "auction" where only one bidder could win, and it didn't matter how much they, or anyone else actually offered. (Why didn't our USAF save some money and only bid $1? Maybe they were afraid a local rancher or Fish & Game would outbid them?!)

Here's my favorite part; the mouthpiece for the Air Force telling us how they fed $2.6 million to our education system last year, and how "all the benefits of the taxes we bring well offsets any amount of debt." So... are they saying that they'd pull out if they didn't get their 900 acres? That we should treat their bid as if it were for $2,600,010, so it's really the high one?

Next time you want to go bargain hunting, look for an Idaho Auction. But remember: you have to be the designated winner for it to work.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Monday, 08-Mar-1999 20:46:00 MST