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The view of Palisade from atop the Palisade Rim Trail. The BLM and Forest Service recently approved the development of the Palisade Plunge Trail, which will start atop the Grand Mesa and end at the Colorado River. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

The Bureau of Land Management’s planned headquarters relocation to Grand Junction will net the city 27 jobs, federal officials said on Tuesday, with 54 more positions heading to the Federal Center in Lakewood as part of the public lands agency’s realignment to the West. 

That’s far fewer jobs than some were expecting to head to the Western Slope. Higher estimates last year were that 300 or more positions could head to the city with an economic impact in Mesa County somewhere north of $40 million. 

But the economic development leaders in Mesa County are not disappointed. 

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 “It’s still 27 more jobs than we had yesterday,” said Robin Brown, who leads the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. “Of course we would love to see them grow that footprint once they get here and see how great a place it is to do business.”

Brown said Grand Junction didn’t really know what the relocation would mean in terms of jobs and that they had heard different numbers throughout their efforts to court the agency. 

“We didn’t know,” she said. “It was everywhere from 30 jobs to 400 jobs depending on who I spoke with. It’s funny how much people want me to be disappointed. But I’m not disappointed.”

MORE: Bureau of Land Management to move headquarters to Grand Junction, Cory Gardner says

While the job number for Grand Junction might not be eye-popping, the people who are slated to move there are top brass, including the BLM’s director and deputy director of operations and assistant directors.

Brown thinks that the relocation will likely happen sometime around the fall. “I have a call with the BLM chief of staff later this week and I’ll know more after that,” she said. 

She added that her organization is no longer working to get a direct flight to Washington from Grand Junction, one incentive the city had offered as a lure to the agency. BLM leaders did not make the flight a requirement. 

In total, 222 positions are being moved out of Washington to locations across the West. New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Arizona each will get between about 40 and 50 jobs.

The agency’s total workforce is about 9,000, only a fraction of which are currently in Washington.

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

“The redeployment of the BLM’s headquarters functions to Western locations is beneficial for the BLM’s employees and the constituents they serve and for every American taxpayer,” Joseph Balash, the BLM’s assistant secretary of lands and minerals management, wrote in a memo about the relocations.

The headquarters relocation news was first announced on Monday by Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, who called it a “historic” decision for Grand Junction and the state. He said hopes the move will bolster the state’s reputation as a public lands and outdoors mecca. 

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also touted the BLM’s decision, saying he was “thrilled.” Polis predicted in June that the agency would be more likely to move its headquarters to Denver than Grand Junction. While he was wrong about the specifics, the metro area is ultimately landing more jobs than are headed to the Western Slope.

“This is even better news!” U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, tweeted. His district includes Lakewood. “Glad to welcome these folks to Lakewood and look forward to having a greater BLM presence on the ground out here in the West.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, said the relocation — which he supported — is a good start.

“But the details released today also suggest more needs to be done to establish a true national headquarters in the West,” he said in a written statement. “We look forward to working with the Department of the Interior to permanently secure BLM headquarters in Grand Junction.”

Opponents of the relocation say it could put the agency’s Washington influence at risk and could be difficult for employees forced to move. 

“We need to ensure that this important agency continues to receive the resources it needs to do its job,” U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, said in a written statement.

The Associated Press reports the relocation is part of a broader plan to reorganize the Interior Department, launched by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. 

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....