SOURCE:  Idaho Press-Tribune

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“When you look at it in black and white, these BLM people are either very incompetent or they’re harassing us, or both,” Mike said.

Mike says his charge of harassment stems from BLM closing off parcels of public land around Challis a few years earlier.  The McGowans disputed the closures, claiming that BLM broke the law because they did not follow the NEPA process regarding public lands or hold public meetings before the closures went into effect.”

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CHALLIS — When Mike and Connie McGowan bought their Challis property in north-central Idaho in 2005, they never expected that their new dream home would turn into such a nightmare.

About four years ago, the McGowans were notified by the Bureau of Land Management that due to newly-conducted land surveys, 2 of their 8.9 acres of property had actually belonged to the BLM.  This resulted in an unintentional trespass violation issuance.

For the past four years, the couple has reached out to multiple local and federal government agencies to try to get their acreage dispute solved.  But they have encountered nothing but red tape and frustration every step of the way.

“When I found out, I went to the BLM immediately and asked questions,” Mike said. “They told me that I did have a problem but they didn’t think I’d live long enough to get it resolved.”

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The problem is magnified, as Mike has a $100,000 workshop located on the disputed two acres, which he uses to repair motorcycles, dirt bikes and RVs. The shop is a major source of income for the couple.  Even though they are both in their early 70s, both Mike and Connie still work.

“It was during the good times in Idaho and we paid a high price for the property, knowing that we could build a nice shop to operate our business,” Mike said.

In 2010, the McGowans were first alerted to the problem when they were contacted by a Challis real estate office, asking if they would be interested in selling their land to a professional buyer.  After talking it over and deciding to listen to the offer, they received a callback from the broker saying there were problems with the property lines.

The McGowans claim the professional buyer was a representative from the local BLM office.

The property was originally surveyed in the 1970s.  Before the McGowans bought the property, the title had changed hands seven times.  Every title from this period shows the land was surveyed and documented at 8.9 acres.

With this proof in hand, they filed for a color of title application with BLM in 2010, which would have settled the acreage dispute by grandfathering the 8.9 acres. However, the application was denied.

“We were told by BLM not to file an appeal because they said they were in the process of selling us our land back,” Connie said.  “Well, they changed their minds about selling us the land.  But they didn’t tell us until after the 30-day period to file the appeal had passed.”

According to Todd Kuck, the field manager for the BLM office in Challis, the only way for BLM to dispose of federal property is through changes to its resource management plan.  The plan is updated every 15 to 20 years and the last time the plan was amended was in 1999.

“There are about 90 unintentional trespass cases like this that we know about in Custer County,” Kuck said.  “We are keeping a list of these properties for when we do make amends to the resource management plan.”

Kuck says the next amendment process could begin within the next couple of years.

Even though this problem has been going on for four years now, the McGowans have continued to pay property taxes on the disputed two acres.  This is because the county assessor still lists their property at the original 8.9 acres.

“The county assessor’s office agrees with us,” Mike said.  “We own 8.9 acres.”

After the color of title application failed, the McGowans tried to obtain a special use permit from BLM, which would renew every three years.  It would also allow them to use the disputed two acres until the resource management plan could be updated.  This turned out to be a bust as well.

“The BLM people came out and told us they could get a permit for us within a few days and that it would cost $750,” Mike said.  “We wrote them a check and we never heard back. When I went down to the office, I found out the $750 was for back rent from when the new BLM surveys went into effect.”

This past summer, the McGowans say they were told a permit could be issued for the entire two acres. However, they claim BLM told them that due to the property’s close location to the Challis Bison Kill Site and a wild herd of bighorn sheep, a permit could only be issued for the shop, not the disputed two acres.“How are we supposed to trust these people when they keep going back on their word,” Connie said.

Mike disputes the Challis Bison Kill Site is even a historical site, claiming it is merely “a gravel pit,” where natural materials were transported by dump truck.

The couple has also had problems with BLM’s assertion that they did not have any water rights to a nearby spring, even though Mike and Connie say they have paperwork from the courts proving they have exclusive rights to the spring.  An $800 right of way lease was charged for the water pipe leading from the spring to the house because it passed through BLM land.

When they bought the property, fence posts surrounded the land due to an adjacent cattle allotment that hadn’t been used in a while.  Mike and Connie say BLM asked them if they would help assist in removing the fence posts, as the allotment would never be sold again.  Soon afterwards, the allotment was sold and now cattle occasionally roam the couple’s yard.

Because BLM allows the new landowner to use the water from the spring area for the cattle, Mike and Connie claim their water is left to a dribble and is contaminated with cow droppings.

“When you look at it in black and white, these BLM people are either very incompetent or they’re harassing us, or both,” Mike said.

Mike says his charge of harassment stems from BLM closing off parcels of public land around Challis a few years earlier.  The McGowans disputed the closures, claiming that BLM broke the law because they did not follow the NEPA process regarding public lands or hold public meetings before the closures went into effect.

They also claim BLM was not happy about a 12-mile off-road trail he helped construct on behalf of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

“I was told by a BLM official at a public meeting that ‘we hadn’t heard the last of this,’” Mike said.  “That’s when the nightmare began for us.  We were told about the issue with our land soon after that.”

READ THE REST OF THIS STORY HERE.

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