U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said during a speech in Grand Junction Saturday that he hopes the Bureau of Land Management's new office space in Grand Junction will be ready to move into this winter.
The Rifle native touted bipartisan support for the relocation of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Grand Junction during a keynote address to Club 20, a 22-county coalition of businesses, and local and state government representatives from across the Western Slope.
His appearance coincided with the signing of a lease — announced Friday — for office space in a building that will house the BLM’s new national headquarters in Grand Junction. That move has been touted as a big economic development win in Mesa County, a county that is 77 percent federal lands and has long been buffeted by the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry.
The move west is viewed by some as an attempt by the Trump administration to dilute the agency’s ability to oversee 245 million acres of public lands by wrenching policymakers away from the center of power in Washington D.C. In a recent letter, 30 retired senior BLM officials blasted the move as a way to also shed staff who will refuse to move across the country to a smaller city that is four hours away from the nearest large metropolitan area of Denver.
The choice of an office location for the new headquarters ratcheted up that controversy Friday. In its new office space, the BLM will share space in an office building with oil and gas companies as well as with the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Bernhardt did not address that in his speech.
"The bottom line is that we’re moving forward," Bernhardt said.
Bernhardt, a former oil and gas lobbyist, said he hopes to have 27 BLM officials in that building this winter. He said 19 positions in the new Grand Junction office are now being advertised.
In an interview with Colorado Public Radio before he addressed Club 20, Gov. Jared Polis said Bernhardt has assured him that high-level BLM officials will be moved to Grand Junction and that more jobs may follow.
"We hope to get a lot more jobs," Polis said. "Twenty-seven is a good start. The secretary has assured me that there will be more. This is an important first step. "
Bernhardt used much of his half-hour at the podium to praise his boss, President Donald Trump, whom he credited with moving fast on making changes good for the country, such as placing land managers nearer to the land they oversee.
"The president believes in engaging the folks, the local representatives, many of you may even have come out to Washington to be a part of some of those meetings," Bernhardt said. Trump "believes the county commissioners need to be heard. He believes the governors need to be heard. He believes the people need to be heard because we have one job and our job is really very simple: do what he said and try to make things better for the American people."
Except for an interview with a reporter for the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Bernhardt and his office did not make him available to take any questions from other media at Club 20 or during a walkthrough of the new BLM headquarters.
Gov. Polis said the decision to place the BLM headquarters near oil and gas entities overseen by the BLM, did not involve him or other Colorado officials.
"We didn’t have anything to do with the site selection process," Polis said. "I am sure they looked at a number of buildings and needed to find one that fits the number of employees they have.
In his Club 20 address, Polis also hinted at more good economic development news to come for Grand Junction.
"We are working closely with Lockheed Martin and others to try to bring some of those aerospace jobs to Western Colorado as well," Polis said. "We hope to have announcements in the future about those amazing opportunities for aerospace jobs here in Western Colorado."
Correction: The BLM would share a building with the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association if it moves its headquarters to Grand Junction. An earlier version of the story named an incorrect oil and gas board as having office space in that building.