GRAND JUNCTION • The office building with the curved roof that by year’s end could be the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is in an area lined with corporate hotels and fast-food restaurants.
Less than a mile north of the building sits Grand Junction Regional Airport, and beyond that, in a view that will greet BLM employees daily, are federal public lands governed by the agency.
On Saturday, the day after the BLM announced it had signed a lease for space in 760 Horizon Drive, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt was in Grand Junction.
He first spoke at the fall conference of Club 20, the 22-county organization of state and local government and business organizations, at nearby Colorado Mesa University.
And then he toured the building, including the vacant space on the third floor where the BLM is likely to take up residence.
A floor above is Chevron, the oil company which occupies the fourth floor. On the first floor are the Western Slope branch of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Laramie Energy.
Oil and gas companies' operations on federal lands are regulated by BLM and the Interior Department.
Other tenants include ProStar Geocorp, which provides mapping services to clients including oil and gas companies, as well as an insurance agency, a construction company and a software company.
Club 20’s fall conference on Saturday hosted federal and state representatives who all cheered the BLM move: Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat; U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, Republican of Cortez; and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, who has pushed the idea of the agency’s move to Colorado for several years.
Bernhardt saluted all of them in his keynote address Saturday, praising Gardner and fellow Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, for their bipartisan efforts to make the move a reality.
“With the heated rhetoric in Washington, people miss how important bipartisan support is,” Bernhardt said. “We had to have support from the governor,” he explained, and pointed out that Polis, while he represented the 2nd Congressional District, had co-sponsored 2017 legislation to relocate the BLM to Colorado that Tipton authored.
About 27 of agency’s top officials will make the move to Grand Junction; others will relocate to the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, where another BLM office is located; still others will be scattered to other parts of the West.
Bernhardt said the agency will keep some of its personnel in Washington, D.C., such as the budget office and key congressional affairs staffers, who will move into the headquarters of the Interior department.
“Really great folks who hold jobs in Washington, D.C. are moving,” Bernhardt told the audience. “This is a big deal for them.”
Bernhardt added that now that the lease is signed, some will be traveling to Grand Junction in the near future to check out the new offices.
Nineteen positions tied to the Grand Junction office were posted on the federal jobs website this week, Bernhardt said. He mentioned two groups of people who will be part of the move West: the leaders of the wild horse and burro program (no wild horses and burros in Washington, Bernhardt said) and the officials who oversee the BLM’s national training center, which is located in Phoenix.
The building’s real estate listing said it had 19,055 square feet of space available in three spaces, at $25 per square foot, on the third of its four floors. Just how much square footage BLM would take is unknown; the real estate listing said those spaces could be leased separately or as one unit. The largest, at 10,555 square feet, could accommodate between 27 and 85 personnel, the listing said.
Tipton, the first speaker of the day, joked he was the warm-up act for Polis and Gardner. “Things are going swimmingly in Washington, D.C.,” he quipped about a Capitol in political turmoil.
As to the BLM move, Tipton said the move will put the decision-makers on the land they’re actually managing. He also believes more federal headquarters will make the move to the West.
Gardner told the Club 20 crowd that the move is important because it will result in better decisions. People also talk about how good the relationship is with BLM local field offices, Gardner said, “but something happens when that decision gets into the Beltway.”
Grand Junction and western Colorado “is the true national gateway to our public lands, and when western Colorado talks to businesses about relocating here,” having the BLM headquarters will be a selling point, Gardner said.
The move is opposed by former BLM managers and officials who believe it is intended to get rid of scientists and longtime agency employees who won’t make the move. It’s also drawing opposition from some congressional Democrats and tribal groups.
Gardner took questions from reporters after his remarks. “Is Washington, D.C. the only place they can do their job?” he said in response to a question about the number of BLM employees who are already out West -- one estimate is that 97% are already outside of Washington, mostly in state headquarters and field offices. Gardner noted that 99% of public lands are in the West, some 2,000 miles away from the nation’s capital.
He also responded to questions about whether it was appropriate for the BLM to be located in the same building as some of the oil and gas companies that lease federal lands for oil and gas from the BLM.
“Washington is infested with special interests,” Gardner replied. “You mean to tell me that BLM is insulated from that? They’re infested.”
“There are thousands of lobbyists in Washington,” he said, adding if the Sierra Club wants to be next door to the BLM, they can be next door.
Polis cheered the BLM move but said he hopes it leads to more than just the 27 jobs that BLM plans to locate in Grand Junction.
Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action members protested outside the Colorado Mesa University Center where the Club 20 Fall Conference was held.
“As more details emerge, it appears that the entire BLM move may just be a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle the agency and weaken protections for public lands,” alliance spokesman Stephen Koenigsberg said.