It didn't end up being hundreds of jobs.
But Grand Junction did end up scoring the top positions being relocated by the Bureau of Land Management under a move formally announced Tuesday — and perhaps more importantly, the city will gain the official title as the agency's new headquarters.
The BLM revealed that 27 of the jobs to be moved from Washington, D.C., will come to Grand Junction, including the BLM director, deputy director of operations, assistant directors and a few of their staff members.
Colorado as a whole ended up the big winner among states in the relocation out of the nation's capital, with 85 in total coming to the state. Fifty-four positions will be split between the Colorado State Office and the National Operations Center in Lakewood, and four more positions will be allocated to the state office.
Altogether nearly 300 positions are being moved to numerous Western states, with Nevada getting 49 of them, Utah, 44, and Arizona and New Mexico, 39 each, and ranking as the top beneficiaries of the relocation besides Colorado.
The benefits to Grand Junction, as the city selected as the new headquarters, aren't what they would have been back when the Interior Department initially was thinking of moving all the Washington jobs to one place. Still, Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said the prestige of being named the agency's headquarters is significant.
"It elevates our image across the nation by having the headquarters location, regardless of the number of jobs," she said.
In addition, the 27 jobs include top-tier, high-paying positions, which perhaps will mean the families coming will have more disposable income, she said.
"I think it will have still a tremendous impact overall on the community," Schwenke said of the headquarters relocation, first confirmed Monday by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.
The headquarters will be located one county over from where Interior Secretary David Bernhardt grew up, in the Rifle area. At least one critic of the plan to move jobs from Washington — U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee — pointed to that link in a statement issued Monday, saying, "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."
Interior spokeswoman Molly Block said the department considered multiple Western cities, big and small, where the BLM already had a presence.
"In choosing a more central location, we narrowed the larger list to locations in Colorado, Utah, and Idaho and further evaluated cost of living, locality pay, relative purchasing power, ease of air travel to the BLM's most frequent travel destinations, lease rates, availability of office space, and other factors. Grand Junction was selected because of its significant cost savings, travel accessibility, quality of life attributes, and other factors."
Joe Balash, Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals management, told reporters in a teleconference Tuesday, "Ultimately we decided on Grand Junction at least in part because we wanted the headquarters to stand apart, stand alone, not necessarily overwhelm or overshadow one of our state headquarter locations."
He likewise said the BLM's current local Grand Junction Field Office "will retain its own identity." The headquarters office will be located in separate quarters to be pursued in coming weeks through an advertised, competitive bidding process.
Whatever role Bernhardt might have played in the selection for the headquarters, he also appears to have figured prominently in the fact that its employee numbers are far fewer than once had been envisioned. Balash noted that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had kicked off the exploration of a headquarters move, which for a while focused on relocating the entire headquarters to one place.
Under Bernhardt's leadership of the Interior Department, however, he had the department work through questions involving each job now based in the Washington headquarters. These included what the best location for each job would be, if not the capital.
As a result, the plan envisions shifts that include some grazing-related jobs going to Idaho, home to a lot of BLM grazing permits. California and Nevada, home to a lot of renewable energy, will see new jobs related to things such as solar and geothermal program oversight.
Bernhardt said in a statement Tuesday, "Under our proposal, every Western state will gain additional staff resources. This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently while also advancing the Bureau of Land Management's multiple-use mission."
While the BLM director is to be based in Grand Junction, it hasn't had a permanent director yet under the Trump administration. The agency is being led by Casey Hammond, the Interior Department's principal deputy assistant secretary of land and minerals management, and it wasn't clear Tuesday if he would be relocating to Grand Junction.
Gardner, who led the push to getting the headquarters moved out west, and ideally Grand Junction, told the Daily Sentinel Tuesday he would anticipate the acting director working from the city. Block didn't directly address Hammond's plans in an emailed response to an inquiry from the Sentinel, only reiterating that the director would be based in Grand Junction.
Gardner said he is anticipating that with the relocation plans now being finalized, there soon will be someone nominated by President Trump for the BLM directorship.
Balash told reporters he doesn't see the new plans changing things one way or the other when it comes to a permanent director.
"That is a nomination that is up to the president, so he'll make that appointment in due course," Balash said.
George Stone, a director with the Public Lands Foundation, made up mostly of retired BLM employees, said of the failure to nominate a director, "It appears at this stage that this is part of a plan to run the government through a series of acting positions. We seem to have a lot of that in Interior and government-wide, for that matter. This way you avoid Senate confirmation and approval."
Stone's organization opposes the relocation, noting that more than 9,000 BLM employees already work in the field across the country. He said most of those working in Washington previously worked in other BLM offices.
"They're able to share that experience right here in D.C. where it matters," he said.
Balash said pushing jobs out into the field will help enable senior employees to mentor younger ones.
Interior officials say the relocations will reduce travel times and costs for affected employees since they'll be living closer to the places they often must go. Travel between Washington and Western states in the 2018 fiscal year totaled more than $3.2 million for the BLM.
Susan Combs, Interior assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, told reporters that Western-states residents wanting to talk to decision-makers also will have a shorter trip to make.
While the relocation will have short-term costs, Balash says it could save an estimated $50 million to nearly $100 million in the long run. One factor in looking for a new headquarters was lower costs in much of the West when it comes to real estate and office leases, compared to Washington.
The BLM plans to keep 61 headquarters jobs in Washington. Balash said they involve budget, congressional relations and other positions that need to remain there.
Despite Grijalva's concerns about the move, Adam Sarvana, a spokesman for House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, told the Sentinel Tuesday, "As of right now, legally speaking, BLM is free to do whatever it likes" when it comes to its relocation plans.
Sarvana said Interior has refused to answer House Resource Committee Democrats' questions for more than a year now about the plans.
Balash said most of the employee relocations will occur over the next 15-plus months. He said some are looking forward to moving, and others don't want to move for various personal and professional reasons. The BLM plans to help those wanting to stay in Washington by trying to place them in other open positions with the BLM or other agencies, and may be able to offer retirement incentives for some employees near the end of their careers.
Gardner said while 27 national-level BLM employees are coming to Grand Junction now, Interior officials have told him that number eventually will grow.
Balash said the number may need to go up, or down, as the BLM implements its plan, but added, "Don't expect that number to increase dramatically over time."
Gardner said Grand Junction will benefit from people coming to meet with the BLM director and other officials, eating at restaurants and otherwise benefiting the service industry. And he said having the headquarters in Grand Junction will help it market itself as being "home to public lands second to none."
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, told the Daily Sentinel that based on conversations he has had with Interior officials such as Bernhardt and Combs, he thinks Grand Junction getting the headquarters could open the door to more jobs coming, perhaps involving other agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service.
He credited Schwenke and other Grand Junction representatives for helping him get Combs information needed so Interior could make a decision.
"The local community has worked incredibly hard, being able to make what was a very valid case that if they were going to relocate the best location was Grand Junction," he said.
Said Gardner, "I can't thank the people of Grand Junction enough for getting behind this effort and making the BLM feel welcome. I think that was a huge, huge part of Grand Junction's success."
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on Tuesday released a lukewarm statement about the details of the BLM plans, seemingly stemming at least in part from the relatively low number of people coming to Grand Junction.
"For over two years we've worked with the Colorado delegation and the local community to bring the BLM national headquarters to Grand Junction. A move like this would be an investment in Grand Junction, and should lead to improved decision making and increased resources for our public lands," he said.
"This announcement is a step in the right direction and a testament to the work of local leaders. But the details released (Tuesday) also suggest more needs to be done to establish a true national headquarters in the West. We look forward to working with the Department of the Interior to permanently secure BLM headquarters in Grand Junction."