In a major move forward for the potential Pilot Hill recreation and preservation area east of Laramie, the University of Wyoming announced Wednesday the Board of Trustees approved the purchase of about 20% of the Pilot Hill Project land.
Approximately 1,233 acres were purchased for $2.367 million, or around $1,919 per acre, and is part of the proposed 5,500 acres currently being sought by the Pilot Hill Project committee.
The committee, comprising of local stakeholders, lawmakers, community members and UW administration and faculty, hopes to turn the area into a single block of public land to help protect the Casper Aquifer below and the wildlife migration corridors throughout, as well as to provide opportunities for outdoor recreation.
In Wednesday’s news release, board of trustee’s chairman Dave True said the purchase, “in conjunction with the efforts of others, could help provide a world-class natural amenity for our community.”
The parcels, located in the northwestern portion of the proposed Pilot Hill land, were identified for purchase in a 2017 agreement between the Albany County Commission and Warren Livestock Co. and is “contingent upon raising $10.5 million, plus additional funding for future management,” the release said.
According to a Wednesday PHP committee news release, over $900,000 has been raised so far to develop future infrastructure.
The committee has also been pursuing a $10.5 million land swap agreement with the Office of State Lands and Investments, where pieces of inaccessible public land would be traded to private owners in exchange for the pilot hill parcels.
PHP committee spokeswoman Sarah Brown Mathews told the Boomerang Monday the purchase helps support the timeline for the land swap to be completed as early as spring 2020.
“This was a key piece that needed to be figured out,” she said. “As we work with the office of state lands, hopefully now they will be able to release the exchange proposal this winter with the goal of gathering input and being able to take it to the Office of State Lands board in the spring for a vote.”
The purchase is “an important step” in the finalization of the proposed state land exchange packet, chair Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said in the Wednesday release the committee is “thrilled with the announcement of this important milestone.”
“It demonstrates that both UW and the landowners are committed to the success and long-term vision for this project,” he wrote.
UW will also plan to exchange one portion of the purchased land for a piece of state school trust land that resides between the new purchase and property UW already owned, UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told the Boomerang Wednesday.
A project appealing to outdoor enthusiasts, natural resource scholars and athletic trainers alike, PHP committee member Marilyn Kite noted in the release UW’s purchase is a “game-changer for Laramie, southeast Wyoming and UW.”
“It will enhance the university’s student and faculty recruitment efforts, provide research and educational opportunities for faculty and students in our own backyard, as well as serve as a model for communities to create partnerships that improve Wyoming’s quality of life in so many ways,” she wrote.
The PHP committee is planning for the land to be state-managed, connecting Laramie to the trails in the Pole Mountain Unit of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
True said in the release the university stands “ready to continue working with other partners in the development of a plan to manage all of the Pilot Hill parcels as a single, integrated public recreational unit.”
The release from UW states that the purchase was “approved Nov. 14 by the UW trustees" at their meeting in Laramie last week.
However, members of the public who attended that meeting can be forgiven for not realizing such a major decision was made.
Despite the Wyoming Public Meetings Act's requirement that all board decisions and other actions "be taken openly" in a public session, the trustees did not discuss the transaction publicly before it was finalized.
Instead, they merely voted in their public session to “execute the real estate transaction as discussed in executive session.”
According to the Wyoming Public Meetings Act, a board can go behind closed doors on real estate purchases only when “the publicity regarding the consideration would cause a likelihood of an increase in price.”
However, it has been well-known and publicized that UW was given a $2 million option-to-buy in March. That OTB was enumerated in the Pilot Hill purchase agreement.
“No action of a governing body of an agency shall be taken except during a public meeting following notice of the meeting in accordance with this act,” the Wyoming Public Meetings Act states. “Action taken at a meeting not in conformity with this act is null and void.”
The purchased land, formerly owned by Warren Livestock Co., is east of Jacoby Golf Course and “aligns with the university’s interests by creating a consistent pattern of ownership of lands adjoining UW’s golf course property and providing a resource for the university’s future water needs,” True said in the release.
Baldwin told the Boomerang Wednesday, “no specific plans have been made for additional well drilling” in the area.