Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation and local economic boosters plan to work on changing the mind of Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland and persuade her of the value of the Bureau of Land Management’s relocation of its headquarters to Grand Junction.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.; U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt; and Gov. Jared Polis joined local officials Monday in an online Zoom meeting organized by Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.
The purpose was to discuss efforts to keep the headquarters in Grand Junction after a change in presidential administrations, and hopefully even grow its staffing levels. Brown said she hopes the conversation is one of many to follow.
“I hope this is the start of a concerted effort to keep the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction,” she told other meeting participants.
The Trump administration opened the new headquarters about a year ago on Horizon Drive, eventually saying it was relocating 41 jobs, many of them top-level, to the city.
Initially, local supporters of the relocation of the headquarters had hoped the government would move many more BLM jobs here from Washington, D.C., but the Interior Department instead moved many of those jobs to sites in other western states and elsewhere in Colorado, while also keeping about 60 jobs in Washington after determining they are needed there.
The Trump administration and other supporters of moving headquarters west said BLM decision makers should live close to the lands they manage and communities those decisions affect.
“That’s more easily accomplished from a place like Grand Junction,” said Bonnie Petersen, executive director of Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, in Monday’s meeting.
Critics argue the Trump administration used the move to try to weaken the agency.
Bennet said Monday that he and other supporters of moving the headquarters to Grand Junction need to continue to make the case in favor of its merits, after some took the view during its implementation that the Trump administration was trying to dismantle the BLM rather than improve its functioning.
Haaland, a Democratic U.S. representative in New Mexico who is awaiting Senate confirmation proceedings on her nomination, has been critical of the relocation.
Both Bennet and Hickenlooper indicated their willingness to visit with her about the Grand Junction headquarters.
“She’s opposed it over the last couple of years, but maybe we can turn her around,” Bennet said.
Hickenlooper said he thinks Haaland is key to the headquarters issue, as ultimately its future will be her decision.
He said it makes sense to get government out of Washington.
“There’s some reason why people are kind of turned off and becoming apolitical. It’s because their government seems so far away from them,” he said.
Brown hopes to organize a visit by Haaland to Grand Junction and the headquarters, with Bennet and Hickenlooper perhaps helping make that happen.
Said Bennet, “I hope the secretary would be interested in coming out to see it.”
Polis calls the current headquarters staffing “a good start,” but said the headquarters move hadn’t lived up to the hopes of involving 100-120 jobs in Grand Junction by this point.
He thinks having the headquarters in Colorado leads to better governance of BLM lands while having the benefit of offering agency officials the chance to live in the state rather than Washington.
“This should be a big plus for the type of folks we want to attract and retain at a storied agency like BLM,” said Polis, who has written President Joe Biden in support of keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction.
Bennet and Hickenlooper have written to Biden in support of a fully functioning headquarters in the city, saying that by assigning only 41 senior staff there, the Trump administration didn’t follow through on its commitment to the city.
Boebert said Monday that she appreciates the bipartisan effort to increase the headquarters’ size.
“I strongly support the request from Sens. Hickenlooper and Bennet and of course Gov. Polis to grow the Bureau of Land Management headquarters and bring even more job opportunities to Grand Junction, Colorado,” she said.
Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis pointed to the estimated $120,000 average wage the local headquarters jobs pay and the role they play in helping the local economy.
“Losing these jobs would be a setback for us,” he said.
Grand Junction Mayor Duke Wortmann told others Monday that the city is willing to do anything it can to engage in support of the headquarters effort.
“We just want to ask, how can we be a part of the effort, how can we partner, how can we collaborate — one of the great things we do here,” he said.