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Western Slope lawmakers react to BLM headquarters relocating to Grand Junction

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By Derek Draplin | The Center Square

Lawmakers from Colorado’s Western Slope plan on welcoming the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Grand Junction with open arms.

The federal land management agency’s headquarters will be relocated from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, located in Mesa County on the state’s Western Slope. 

The move was confirmed on Monday by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who has advocated for relocation since the early days of the Trump administration. 

BLM manages public land and natural resources on 245 million acres across the county. Most of that land, however, is out west, in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. 

Proponents of the move say federal officials will be able to better manage land and resources by being located nearer to them, rather than from Washington, D.C.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, a Republican, said having BLM decision makers in the community is an important step, and the relocation will also have an economic impact on the community.  

“This is a great opportunity for us as an economic development community, including local elected officials, to really showcase our community on a national level,” she told The Center Square. “We’re excited to have the BLM relocating to Grand Junction.” 

Pugliese said Mesa County is 72 percent federal land, and the Western Slope contains many more communities that have high percentages of federal land.

“We think it will open up more economic development opportunities for our community – obviously it will bring more jobs into our community,” Pugliese said. “But most importantly for us, since we’ve been pushing the BLM relocation for so long, is that we really want the people who are making the decisions about public lands to be located within the communities in which their decisions effect.” 

“Having those decision makers in our communities will be really important so that they understand the impact of their decisions,” she added. 

The relocation will reportedly cost $5 million and will happen by October 1.

CPR News reported Tuesday that 85 BLM positions will relocate to Colorado, with 27 going to Grand Junction. State offices will welcome 222 employees to be relocated. 

Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction, told The Center Square, “It's exciting that the BLM recognizes the importance of moving its headquarters to Grand Junction.” 

“There were so many that worked countless hours to make this a reality,” she added. “Those of us who have lived here a very long time know it's one of the greatest places in Colorado.”

“This move by the BLM puts Grand Junction – this puts Mesa County – on the map and shows we have much to offer,” Rich added. “We look forward to partnering with the BLM.”

Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, highlighted the potential economic impacts of the move. 

“Great day for Grand Junction and for public lands management,” Scott tweeted. “Glad to have played a small role alongside Sen @SenCoryGardner Rep @RepTipton and Sec Bernhardt to secure the move of BLM to our great city. The economic impacts will be amazing.” 

The BLM is part of the Department of Interior, which is headed by Secretary David Bernhardt, a native of Rifle, Colo. 

Bernhardt said in a statement Tuesday that other states, not just Colorado, will benefit from the move. 

"A meaningful realignment of our operations is not simply about where functions are performed; rather, it is rooted in how changes will better respond to the needs of the American people,” he said. “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,” Bernhardt added. “Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states – where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located – is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties, and states.” 

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, who represents western Colorado, called the plan “a remarkable example of collaboration.”

“From the local county commissioners to the highest levels of the federal government, getting the BLM HQ to Grand Junction was a remarkable example of collaboration,” he said. “I hope this sets the precedent for how the BLM will continue to operate moving forward.”

Gardner, who confirmed the relocation on Monday, is up for a tough re-election in 2020.

“Relocating the Bureau of Land Management to the Western Slope of Colorado will bring the bureau’s decision makers closer to the people they serve and the public lands they manage,” he said.  

“The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve,” Gardner said. “Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is west of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters. This is a victory for local communities, advocates for public lands, and proponents for a more responsible and accountable federal government.”

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who’s running for president, has in the past advocated for the relocation. 

Congress will need to approve the funding for the move, and Bennet could end up playing a key role in supporting the approval of the Trump administration’s relocation plan.