The Bureau of Land Management will relocate its headquarters to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner announced on Monday.
“This is a very big deal for Grand Junction,” the Colorado Republican told The Colorado Sun. “I think this is a signature accomplishment for Grand Junction. They have positioned themselves as a public lands community and economy.”
Gardner said the relocation “showcases and highlights Colorado’s public lands leadership” and will be a major economic driver for the Western Slope.
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The massive public lands agency has not confirmed the move, which has been years in the making. Gardner said more details on the move — including how many employees will be affected and a timeline — will be unveiled on Tuesday, but that the relocation will begin with the move of the agency’s director.
Gardner has been among the chief advocates for the BLM’s move to the Western Slope, arguing that the agency’s decision makers should be closer to the people they serve and the lands they manage. Other members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, both Democrats and Republicans, have also been pushing for the BLM to come to the Centennial State.
About 75 percent of Mesa County, of which Grand Junction is the county seat, is public land.
The city also has been lobbying the federal government for the headquarters, including offering a plan to subsidize a flight from Grand Junction to Washington. The headquarters could be worth $44.2 million, including construction of a new building and the earning impact of BLM workers and their families, Grand Junction economic development officials say.
“We are just thrilled. We are thrilled to welcome the BLM to Grand Junction,” said Robin Brown, who leads the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. “I just can’t tell you how happy I am.”
Brown said the relocation is part of a four- or five-year effort in Grand Junction to diversify its economy and attract new residents and businesses.
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“With all the politics involved, I was never sure it was going to happen,” she said. “It’s confirmation of all the work that this community has done.”
Other places that were being considered for the move include Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho. But Colorado was thought to have a potential leg up, in part, because Interior Secretary David Bernhardt if a native of Rifle.
“We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a written statement. “As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, (its) location closer to the land BLM manages and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy.”
Some opponents of the relocation, including U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, worry the move could weaken the BLM’s lobbying power in Congress. Others are concerned about the impact a relocation will have on employees who live in Washington.
“Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” U.S. Rep. M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a written statement. “The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward. The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.”
A vast majority of the BLM’s roughly 9,000 employees already work outside of the Washington, D.C., area, the government says.
But Gardner said: “I can think of no downside to this.”
Gardner is facing a tough reelection bid next 2020 and is likely to frequently talk about the relocation on the campaign trail.
The BLM manages 245 million acres of land across the U.S.