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For the week of June 19 - 25, 2002


Court upholds county ruling on Ohio Gulch

State ruled subject to local zoning laws

Express Staff Writer

In a case that will affect land-use planning throughout Idaho, a 5th District Court judge has ruled that Blaine County has the right to prohibit gravel mining on state land in Ohio Gulch.

The issue arose in May 2000 when the county denied a conditional-use permit to McStay Construction to mine gravel on a 20-acre parcel of school endowment land, zoned Agricultural and Residential. The state filed suit, arguing that its constitutional mandate to manage school endowment land for the maximum possible financial return trumped the county’s zoning authority.

In a decision handed down June 12, Judge James May rejected that argument.

May noted that the case is the first time the issue has arisen in Idaho. However, he stated, courts in other states have upheld the authority of local zoning laws in similar situations.

"This court agrees with the Colorado and Utah supreme courts and finds that the Land Board, in its management of school endowment lands, is generally subject to reasonable state legislation enacted pursuant to the police power."

The county derives its "police power" from Article XII of the Idaho Constitution, and its specific power to enact zoning laws from the Local Land Use Planning Act. May noted that the Legislature exempted two entities from the provisions of that act—the Idaho Transportation Board and the Public Utilities Commission. Had it wished to exempt the Land Board, he stated, it would have done so.

Interpreting state law to grant the Land Board sole authority over state lands, May stated, "leads to the absurd result of exempting 3,295,415.43 acres of state land from these police power considerations contrary to the express intent of the Legislature."

Controversies similar to that in Blaine County have arisen in other parts of Idaho.

"I think it’s going to be a wake-up call for a lot of counties and for the state Land Board," said Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas.

In northern Idaho’s Bonner County, officials faced intransigence from the state when they attempted to apply county planning ordinances to proposed development on school endowment land on the east side of Priest Lake. They unsuccessfully attempted to intervene in the Ohio Gulch suit.

Bonner County Commissioner Brian Orr said he expects the ruling, if not overturned on appeal, to determine the issue there as well.

The decision also affects a proposal to build a 100-foot-tall wireless communications tower on state land atop Della Mountain, west of Hailey. Under county ordinance, the proposed lessee of the land, Hailey-based Idaho Tower Co., will have to obtain a conditional-use permit to build the tower. However, the county’s wireless communications ordinance prohibits construction of a tower higher than any that exist at the site, and the Della site already contains a 60-foot tower.

The state owns more than 1,000 acres of land in Blaine County.

Bob Cooper, spokesperson for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, said the decision is still under review and the state has not decided whether to appeal it.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.