By Justin Wingerter
Eighty-five federal jobs will move to Colorado as part of a Bureau of Land Management headquarters relocation, the agency told lawmakers Tuesday.
In a letter to U.S. senators, BLM formally announced it will place its new headquarters in Grand Junction, but most of the new Colorado positions will be located at an existing Lakewood office.
Fifty-eight positions will move from Washington to Lakewood, where BLM's state office and national operations center will take on a larger role. Twenty-seven employees will be located at the new BLM headquarters in Grand Junction, according to the letter from BLM to senators.
"Twenty-seven high-paying jobs in a community is always a help," Grand Junction Mayor Rick Taggart said in an interview Tuesday.
Taggart said being known across the country as the headquarters of the BLM will "put Grand Junction further on the map" and improve its economic standing. He hopes more jobs from the private sector will follow the BLM headquarters relocation.
"It's going to benefit the entire state," U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Yuma Republican, said Tuesday morning on KOA Newsradio. "You'll see some jobs in Denver, you'll see some jobs in Grand Junction. But this was never really about the jobs, it was about the decision-making."
"They'll be very high-paying jobs, because it's the director (and) deputy director of the BLM," he said of those coming to Grand Junction.
Robin Brown, director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, says she didn't have any expectations for how many jobs would land in Grand Junction before hearing Tuesday's figure. Estimates have ranged from 30 to 400 over the past several years, she said.
"We are thrilled to death," Brown said of the announcement. "It's a huge boost to our economy; they're great jobs. And, again, the name recognition that will come from being BLM's Western headquarters is huge for us. So, we're happy with 27. Of course, we would love to see that grow in years to come, when they realize what a great place this is to do business."
Brown said BLM hasn't decided whether it will use existing office space or construct a new campus. The city has shown BLM options for both.
"There's been so many naysayers that said, 'Oh, it's never going to come to Grand Junction. You're too small, you're too this, you're too that.' The fact that they ultimately decided to put the headquarters here is such a big win and we're just so excited to have it," Brown said.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade and advocacy association that represents hundreds of oil and gas companies, said the BLM move is sure to help Grand Junction's economy, including the hospitality and service industries. She said the move may not directly lead to increased oil and gas production, but it could become more difficult for BLM employees to block production when working in an area dependent on oil and gas for jobs.
Tuesday's announcement ended a years-long lobbying effort to move BLM headquarters to Colorado, but the Centennial State is only one of a dozen that will add new BLM positions as part of the agency's westward relocation efforts, according to the letter sent to senators.
There currently is not a director of BLM, but when one is appointed, he or she will operate out of the Grand Junction office, along with eight members of the director's staff. The Lakewood office will gain experts in resources and planning, energy and minerals, and fiscal management.
Erin Riccio, a Western Slope field organizer with Conservation Colorado, said the move to Grand Junction will help that local economy but won't protect public lands from the Trump administration.
"We're excited that the BLM is coming to Grand Junction," Riccio said. "But regardless of where the BLM calls home, Coloradans want a fair public process with a more comprehensive lands management focus than the 'energy dominance' agenda of the Trump administration and Senator Gardner."
The proposed BLM move could face difficulties if members of Congress object. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee stated his opposition Monday, saying it will decrease congressional oversight and force many knowledgeable BLM employees to leave the bureau.
"This isn't an effort to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters, it's an attempt to dismantle it altogether," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group that opposes the headquarters relocation.
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