The federal Bureau of Land Management has signed a lease for a new headquarters building near the Grand Junction Airport with fellow tenants including oil and gas interests regulated by the agency.
The building, at 760 Horizon Dr., will serve as the office for the BLM director, deputy director and several assistant directors.
In a release announcing the news, the agency said the new headquarters would represent a “significant cost savings” over the current headquarters in Washington, DC.
“Standing up the headquarters is another step in providing better service to the American people and our neighbors in the West,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in the statement.
Not everyone agrees. Critics of the move have said it is designed to persuade long-time employees to quit the agency or retire rather than move, ultimately weakening protection of federal lands. The Western Values Project, a public lands nonprofit that has long opposed the move, was swift to issue a statement.
"Since you can't physically get in bed with industry, it seems like Bernhardt did the next best thing by moving in next door," said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project, in a statement. "Our worst fears have been confirmed: moving this critical public lands agency out of D.C. has always been intended to give more access to special interests while dismantling institutions and getting rid of federal employees. Now the agency tasked with protecting and standing up for our public lands will be rubbing elbows with oil executives and sharing a water cooler with extractive interest allies."
Bernhardt, who grew up in Rifle, about 60 miles from the new building, has denied any ulterior motive and said moving headquarters will put senior leadership closer to most of the land they manage.
An internet search shows that the new headquarters will be in a building whose other tenants include the West Slope Oil and Gas Association, the state headquarters for Chevron, oil producer Oxy Energy and Laramie Energy. The BLM leases lands to oil and gas producers and regulates their activity on BLM property.
It’s also near a local office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a National Weather Service forecast office.
A 10,555-square-foot space in the Grand Junction building was recently advertised for lease at a rate of $25 per square foot per year, or about $21,000 a month. By comparison, office space in Washington's Ronald Reagan Building at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. is currently listed at $30-$50 per square foot per year depending on location in the building and amenities.
Bernhardt is expected to discuss the move Saturday at a meeting of Club 20 in Grand Junction.