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Heavy equiptment sits on site of new development taking shape along the Colorado River in Grand Junction, Colo. (Photo by William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says the Bureau of Land Management is more likely to relocate its headquarters to Denver than Grand Junction, even though his administration is more supportive of the federal agency moving to the Western Slope.

Either way, the Democrat said he’s “cautiously optimistic” Colorado will win the bidding war with other Western states and land hundreds of new jobs.

“Denver is the most likely site even though we are more supportive of Grand Junction from an economic development perspective,” Polis said at a luncheon event with business leaders Wednesday in Denver. “They seem to be favoring a metro area, just because we don’t have enough flights out of Grand Junction. We are pushing Grand Junction, we are pushing both.”

Grand Junction is working hard to land the headquarters for the agency that oversees public lands as the Trump administration considers relocating it from Washington, D.C. Local leaders see it as a potential transformative, economic boon for the region. The city has been aware, however, that its lack of a direct flight to the nation’s capital could be a potential sticking point.

MORE: The $44.2 million pitch: What Grand Junction is doing to land BLM’s headquarters — and what the chances are it will work

BLM has a large office in Lakewood and dozens of regional offices across the state responsible for managing 8.3 million acres of public land and more than 27 million acres of mineral rights, mostly in western Colorado.

Economic development officials in Grand Junction think the agency’s relocation could bring them more than 300 jobs and an estimated annual economic impact of more than $30 million, according to a study by the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The city even created a “Welcome Home BLM” website touting its low cost of living relative to Denver and Salt Lake City to try and secure the headquarters.

“Well, that’s disappointing,” Robin Brown, who leads the economic partnership, said in response to Polis’ remarks. “I would just respond by saying that we stand by Grand Junction as the best location because every single thing within the BLM’s mission happens in Mesa County and not Denver.”

Brown said that in her conversations with BLM officials they’ve said that affordability is a higher priority than a direct flight to Washington.

Grand Junction has also offered to put up the money for a daily flight to Washington as an incentive for the relocation and in November approved a doubling of the city’s lodging tax to support more air routes.

“Lucky for Grand Junction, it’s not up to the governor where the BLM decides to go,” she added.

MORE: Grand Junction used to be a place young people fled. Now, millennial entrepreneurs are flocking there for opportunity.

Polis said there is potential for 2,000 to 3,000 initial jobs and more in the future but it’s unknown how he arrived at his estimate.

Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has been one of the chief cheerleaders for relocating BLM to Grand Junction, an idea that’s been around for years. He told The Colorado Sun last year that the city has “the space, they’ve got the buildings, they’ve got the quality of life.”

On Thursday, he told The Colorado Sun in a statement that he will continue to push the BLM to relocate to Colorado, but didn’t comment on Polis’ remarks.

David Bernhardt. (Provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior)

Also potentially working in the city’s favor: Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, whose department oversees the BLM, is a native of Rifle. Bernhardt has publicly endorsed moving the BLM’s headquarters west.

“I expect by this summer we’ll be sending up a reprogramming request regarding a potential move of some of the folks in the Bureau of Land Management and potentially the U.S. Geological Survey,” Bernhardt told a U.S. House committee last month, according to E&E News.

Officials from the BLM referred questions from The Sun about the governor’s remarks to the Interior Department. The Interior Department said only that in its 2020 budget there is funding proposed to be dedicated for a move west, but did not provide any further details on its potential plans.

But Denver also has been on the short list for the relocation and the plentiful number flights from Denver International Airport might make it more attractive to an agency whose leaders would presumably need to travel often.

The BLM oversees some 388,000 square miles of public lands. All but a sliver of that is in 12 Western states. The U.S. Interior Department has said that it plans to pick a Western U.S. city to relocate the BLM by October. Other places on the top of the list include Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho.

“I think the main competition (is) probably Utah,” Polis said. “But I think we are favored (over) there.”

Gov. Jared Polis speaks to reporters about Colorado’s 2019 legislative session on May 3, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Some environmental advocacy groups have come out in opposition to relocating the BLM.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, also has expressed concerns about the idea, saying it could drive resources away from the agency’s critical mission and make it less able to influence policy in the nation’s capital.

The U.S. Geological Survey, another Interior Department agency with an existing Colorado presence, is also considering a headquarters relocation to the Denver area.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul