What the BLM HQ move to Grand Junction means locally | AspenTimes.com

What the BLM HQ move to Grand Junction means locally

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
File - In this July 26, 2018, file photo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt waits to speak during the annual state of Colorado energy luncheon sponsored by the Colorado Petroleum council in Denver. The headquarters of the U.S. government's largest land agency will move from the nation's capital to western Colorado, a Republican senator said Monday, July 15, 2019, a high-profile component of the Trump administration's plan to reorganize management of the nation's natural resources. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, attacked the headquarters move and noted that Grand Junction is not far from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt's hometown of Rifle, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Many elected officials lauded the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to move 249 employees to Western states, including 85 to Colorado.

But just 27 positions will move to Grand Junction, which will be the new headquarters for the director’s office.

Having the BLM closer to the lands they manage will be a benefit to Garfield County and the rest of the West, County Commissioner John Martin said. The BLM manages nearly a third of the land in Garfield County.

“They have a closer ear now,” Martin said of the move.

It will still be the federal government, but Martin said the officials will no longer be able to hide behind the distance between D.C. and the Western lands they manage.

“They’re more on the front lines. I think we’ll see efficiencies as well as better relationships,” he said.

Garfield County has supported the relocation of BLM headquarters to Grand Junction since former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke started discussing the idea in February 2018.

The vast majority of the BLM’s workforce of nearly 9,500 employees already works in the field.

The bulk of BLM positions coming to Colorado will be located on the Front Range, to give the headquarters in Grand Junction some distance, said Joe Balash, BLM assistant secretary for lands and minerals, on a Tuesday conference call with reporters.

“We decided on Grand Junction, at least in part because we wanted the headquarters to stand alone, not overshadow the state offices,” Balash said. The BLM’s state offices are already located in Denver.

After the move, which officials hope to complete by late 2020, the D.C. office will have a staff of around 60 people for congressional relations and budget issues.

A big reason for the realignment was a disparity between where the work was being done and where the decisions were being made, officials said.

“Fully 46% of (senior executive officials), nearly half, are located here in D.C.,” Balash said.

“When it comes to the business of the BLM, it gets done on the public lands, with the people who use public lands, and those are all out in the West,” Balash said.

Many of the positions that will be relocated to Western states are unfilled, and the BLM will advertise the openings in the new locations, Balash said.

Critics of the realignment say it will weaken the institutional knowledge concentrated around Washington, D.C., and hampers Congress’ oversight of the department.

“The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here,” Grijalva said.

Grijalva also noted that Interior Secretary David Bernhardt grew up in Rifle.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said.

Erin Riccio, Western Slope field organizer with Conservation Colorado, indicated that the move wouldn’t make much of a difference for environmental issues.

“We’re excited that the BLM is coming to Grand Junction. 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 (Colorado Sen. Cory) Gardner,” Riccio said.

The planned move does have bipartisan support, including from Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado. As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, location closer to the land BLM manages, and the positive impact it will have on our western Colorado economy,” Polis said in a statement issued Monday when the news was first announced by Sen. Gardner.