sarah brown matthews

Sarah Brown Matthews, who organizes work on the planned Pilot Hill purchase, talks to Albany County Commissioners on Thursday about the contract with SE Group.

Albany County commissioners signed a deal Thursday with a Vermont-based contractor to develop a land-use plan for the Pilot Hill land, a 5,500-acre chunk of property east of Laramie that’s expected to become public in 2020.

The county has agreed to pay SE Group, which also has offices in Colorado and Utah, up to $70,000 for the work. However, Sarah Brown Matthews, a key organizer of the Pilot Hill efforts, told commissioners that donations and grant-funding will cover the expenses.

“I think what this means is that we’re pretty confident the purchase is going to happen, because you don’t spend this kind of money unless you’re feeling good about it,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said.

The county was originally planning to purchase the land for $10.5 million. However, it’s now likely that the Office of State Lands and Investments will trade existing state land to acquire the Pilot Hill property.

Matthews said the current indication is that OSLI should be able to complete the land swap in the spring.

The scope of work of the land-use planning will have SE Group begin its work by creating “mapping products depicting existing conditions, important resources and other relevant background materials will be created.”

That mapping will depict archaeological features, natural resources, water supply areas and existing recreational assets.

“Of particular importance will be regional trail and transportation infrastructure to help guide potential new linkages and connections within the Pilot Hill area,” according to the scope of work.

SE Group will visit the project area multiple times over the year of work and try to meet with relevant governmental officials and community members with the goal of probing “the public’s perspectives on where the ‘right’ balance point between open space, recreation and natural resource elements exists.”

The contractor will use a web-based survey and community forums to garner additional ideas on those issues.

After that, SE Group is expected to complete a “foundations document” around October that would “articulate important baseline information needed to create a plan for the future of Pilot Hill.”

Phase 2 of SE Group’s work will prioritize exploring locations for trails, trailheads and other amenities.

The plan would ultimately suggest uses for specific trails, as well as the trails’ seasonality.

“Ideas for wayfinding and interpretive design will also be explored during this task,” the scope of work states.

SE Group will also examine possible parking, management boundaries, policies on dogs and horses, potential wildlife conflicts, and other issues.

By the end of Phase 2, which is planned to be completed by April, SE Group is expected to have preliminary cost estimates for suggested amenities.

During Phase 3, the contractor has been tasked with “identifying potential phasing approaches, development of more detailed cost estimates, refinement of land boundaries and management objectives within the property and finalized policy recommendations.”

The scope of work calls for a final plan to be done by July.

Matthews said that, after a request for qualifications was advertised for the land-use planning project, SE Group was selected from a pool of five firms.

Matthews said a unanimous vote of 12 Pilot Hill volunteers selected SE Group, which Matthew described as “by far the top firm that came forward.”

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