The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has signed a lease agreement on office space in Grand Junction for its proposed new headquarters in Colorado.
The space is in an office building at 760 Horizon Drive, near Grand Junction Regional Airport on a street that's home to several hotels.
In its announcement, BLM said the space will house the federal land agency's director, deputy director for operations and other senior leadership and support staff.
How much space is included in the lease deal was not disclosed. But BLM said the lease terms "will provide the bureau with significant cost savings compared to the current arrangement in Washington, D.C."
The federal lands agency said it has "advertised 19 positions, all currently vacant, that will be located in the new headquarters. These positions ... include senior leadership and experienced senior staff roles, as well as three Senior Executive Service positions."
The prospect of a BLM headquarters move to a western city has been under discussion for years and heated up after President Donald Trump took office, culminating in U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's announcement in July that the agency had picked Grand Junction as its new headquarters site.
It was later revealed that as few as 27 BLM officials and staffers might be based in the new headquarters out of some 10,000 BLM employees. A few hundred others would be dispersed to other western states.
A recent real estate listing for the 760 Horizon Drive property, updated Wednesday, says the 59,114-square-foor building, built in 1970, had a 10,555-square-foor space available for lease on the second floor at $25 per square foot per year (or about $264,000 a year for the entire space), with room for between 27 and 85 people, as well as two smaller spaces of 5,000 square feet (accommodating 13 to 40 people) and 3,500 square feet each (with room for nine to 28 people) for the same lease rate.
The space was offered under a "triple net" lease, which means the tenant also pays for real estate taxes, building insurance and maintenance on the leased property.
The West Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association also lists its address in the building, and corporate offices of oil and gas giant Chevron and Denver-based Laramie Energy also are listed there. Oil and gas companies' operations on federal lands are regulated by BLM and the Interior Department.
“On behalf of the state of Colorado, I am excited to welcome the Bureau of Land Management to its new home in Grand Junction,” Gardner, R-Colorado, said in a statement Friday.
“From the very beginning moving the BLM’s headquarters West has always been about strengthening the BLM’s relationship with local officials, moving the decision makers closer to the lands they oversee and the people they serve, and making better land management decisions. This commonsense move will save taxpayers money and solidify Colorado’s legacy as a responsible steward of public lands," he said.
That's assuming that BLM and its parent, the U.S. Department of the Interior, overcome opposition to the move.
Earlier this month, 30 retired BLM administrators wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to reconsider the relocation, accusing him in the letter of "setting up the BLM for failure" by moving its leaders far from the nation's capital and saying the move would cause "a massive disruption and expenditure of funds for no gain."
And the Public Lands Foundation, a nonprofit whose members are mostly former BLM employees, wrote Congress a blistering letter on Aug. 20, saying the move would “result in the BLM serving only the short-term wants of locally powerful stakeholders to the detriment of all other constituents and the long-term needs of the public lands.”
Several of Colorado's representatives in Congress from both parties back the move, however, including both Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
Advocates say the relocation would place BLM's decision makers closer to the millions of federal acres they administer and to the vast majority of agency employees already based in the West.
BLM oversees more than 245 million acres of public land, almost all of it in the West, thousands of miles from the current headquarters.
“Standing up the headquarters is another step in providing better service to the American people and our neighbors in the West,” Bernhardt said in a statement Friday.
Jamie Connell, BLM's Colorado state director, said in a statement that having "headquarters positions" in Colorado will "serve our diverse resource needs, from minerals to recreation and business and fiscal management. The state and the entire bureau will benefit from the policies and procedures these positions are responsible for, which directly impact the agency's day-to-day operations. We look forward to welcoming these employees, including BLM senior leadership, to our beautiful state.”
William Perry Pendley, the agency's acting director, recently told a congressional committee that he will be staying put in Washington to serve in his regular job as deputy director for programs and policy, but BLM's next permanent director will move west.
Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics and The Associated Press contributed.