Grand Junction will be the new home of the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters, an excited U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner told the Daily Sentinel in a phone interview this afternoon.

“I’ve been informed and it will be made official tomorrow that the BLM headquarters is moving to Grand Junction,” said Gardner, R-Colo.

“This is incredible news and it is historic. It’s historic for Grand Junction and Colorado and this is going to result in significantly better land management decisions. But the bottom line is this is fantastic news for Grand Junction and Colorado.”

The move will bring a still-undetermined number of well-paying jobs to the city, although E&E News today reported that sources are saying at least some of the jobs will go to Denver. Gardner said senior-level BLM positions such as the director and deputy director jobs will be based in Grand Junction. He said further details will be announced Tuesday.

The Washington Post cited anonymous federal officials as saying the move involves fewer than 80 jobs, with many going to Grand Junction but some, including some top positions, going to other cities in the West.

E&E reported that the BLM called an all-staff meeting for Tuesday for a big announcement, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt will send a letter informing congressional leaders about the proposed move. Bernhardt grew up in Rifle.

The plan may undergo congressional review.

“Obviously notification will be given to Congress and there will be a time period where I guess if somebody wanted to they could throw a wrench into the works,” Gardner said.

But he said the relocation has strong bipartisan support from Colorado and beyond.

“I’ve not heard of any substantive objections,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a news release Monday that Bernhardt and other officials have resisted the committee’s calls for transparency on the Trump administration’s plans to reorganize the Interior Department.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this (headquarters) move is part of that agenda. 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.

“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.”

The nonprofit Public Lands Foundation, made up mostly of retired BLM employees, previously has argued that the majority of BLM headquarters jobs should stay in Washington, moving jobs would hurt employee morale and the BLM's decisionmaking already is decentralized, with just 3 percent of BLM jobs based in the capital. Bernhardt previously has said moving the office would result in “fantastic” quality of life for affected employees.

Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said she learned about the BLM decision in a phone call from Gardner Monday morning.

She told the Daily Sentinel, “It just confirms to me all the hard work that many people in the leadership across this valley have done over the last four to five years to make Grand Junction a great place to live and diversify our economy. I mean, a lot of work has led up to this point and we’re just really excited that the Department of Interior recognizes that and is choosing to put the BLM (headquarters) in Grand Junction.”

Gardner has been pushing the idea of a headquarters move since the Obama administration, and long has lobbied for a Grand Junction location. 

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said in a prepared statement, “Today is a great day for Grand Junction, the Western Slope, and for every believer that the federal government should be closer to the people whom its decisions affect. Colorado’s Third Congressional District serves as a microcosm of almost every land-management issue in the American West. 

“As a native of our district, (Secretary) Bernhardt knows the lands well and I applaud his leadership on making this move a reality. I look forward to seeing the final plan and congratulate the community of Grand Junction for this great opportunity.”

Tipton’s support for moving the headquarters west has included introducing a bill to authorize the move.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement, “We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado. As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, location closer to the land BLM manages, and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy. Hard to think of a better place to house the department responsible for overseeing our beloved public lands.”

The office of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. said, “Michael has long said that Grand Junction should be the new home of BLM’s headquarters and we look forward to reviewing the details once (the Interior Department) provides its plans.”

Gardner said moving the BLM headquarters has been a top priority for him for several years.

“Public lands has been a top priority of mine, getting better land management decisions made is always a top priority.”

He long has argued that with 99 percent of BLM land west of the Mississippi River, its headquarters should be out west, too, closer to those whom the agency’s decisions affects. 

“Quite simply … this is one of my most significant priorities, one of my most significant actions now being implemented,” he said.

He said a number of people came on board in support of the proposal in bipartisan fashion.

“I am damn proud of Grand Junction. That’s all I can say,” Gardner said.

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities conservation policy and advocacy group, said in an email to reporters, “Bringing jobs to a Western community like Grand Junction is a laudable goal, but this announcement is nothing but a PR stunt. More than 90 percent of BLM staff already work outside of Washington, DC, and the agency has dozens of offices across the West. Moving senior BLM leadership would only turn the agency into an afterthought, rather than a core piece of the Interior Department.”

She said Bernhardt is stonewalling the congressional committees that would approve the spending request for such a move, so “it’s clear this is not a serious proposal. It’s merely an attempt to drain the Interior Department of career officials who have expertise in running the agency.”

On Sunday, Jonathan Thompson, a contributing editor at High Country News, argued in favor of moving the BLM out west in a column appearing in the Daily Sentinel. He wrote, “If sagebrush rebels get more influence, so will regional environmental groups that don’t have the cash to base people in Washington, D.C. Westerners who are alarmed by the de facto privatization of public lands known as oil and gas leasing can protest not just at their state BLM office, but at the national office as well.

“And if relocated BLM officials see how drilling benefits the community’s economy, they’ll also get a firsthand look at how that same drilling can be detrimental to public health and quality of life — and therefore the economy.”

The BLM decision gives Gardner a major accomplishment to point to as he is expected to face a difficult re-election challenge next year from whatever Democrat wins the right to run against him. Colorado Republicans on Monday were quick to praise his successful efforts.

“Cory Gardner got it done,” Colorado GOP Chairman Ken Buck said in a media statement. “Moving the BLM HQ out of Washington, D.C., and to western Colorado is a victory for our state and the millions of people impacted by BLM decisions each day. This will improve how the agency manages our public lands by ensuring the decision makers are actually in our community.

"Cory’s hard work and leadership came up big for Colorado and the West today.”

Michael Fields, executive director of the conservative group Colorado Rising Action, said in a statement, “Senator Gardner deserves credit for his perseverance in getting this done for the people of Colorado. Having the BLM headquarters actually located near our public land will make for better policies.”

 

Note: This is a breaking news story and will continue to be updated.

 

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