Senate committee discusses possibility of moving BLM HQ

Colorado decision-makers are getting excited about the possible momentum behind moving Bureau of Land Management headquarters to the West. Discussion at a Senate committee meeting last week confirmed that the idea is being considered.

On July 19 during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., questioned Susan Combs, a senior adviser to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Gardner, who thinks the BLM’s national office should be moved to Grand Junction, asked Combs if, “bottom line,” Zinke does intend to move the office from Washington, D.C., to the West. “Absolutely,” she responded.

According to a report in the Grand Junction Sentinel, Gardner responded to an earlier question from Gardner, saying, “The secretary has made it clear that he does want to move BLM’s headquarters west and no location has been picked, but that is something that we would expect to really take a look at in the next six months or so, eight months.”

She said it would be something that officials do “very carefully, very thoughtfully, because (of) the fact that you don’t just pick a spot, you have to do the analysis, what’s its flight back and forth, what’s the cost of living, what’s it like to live there, because you want people to go where they’re going to be happy.”

With regard to comments about the flight, there was an apparent reference to what level of air transportation service would be available between candidate locations and Washington, D.C.

Gardner has been pushing the idea of moving the headquarters out west for the past two years, saying that 99 percent of the land the BLM manages is west of the Mississippi River and decision-makers should live in the communities they impact, the Sentinel report said. Gardner said in a news release that moving the BLM headquarters west “has been a top priority of mine in the Senate, and I was glad the Interior Department confirmed to me — again — that they agree with my plan.

“Making this agency more accountable to the people who have to deal with its management decisions by putting its headquarters among the land it manages would be a great start to modernizing for the next 100 years. I’ll continue to make the case about why Colorado and the West is where this agency belongs.”

Gardner spokesman Casey Contres said Combs reaffirmed what already has been stated by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. “This is real,” Bernhardt said in April of plans to move the headquarters. He was speaking remotely from the White House to participants in an event at Colorado Mesa University. Contres said Combs’ comments also put a timeline on those plans.

Both Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., have introduced legislation aimed at moving the BLM headquarters west. In a statement July 19, Tipton said he commended Zinke “for upholding his commitment” to such a move, the Sentinel report said.

Tipton added, “The district I am fortunate enough to represent serves as a microcosm of almost every Western land-management issue and I encourage the Department of the Interior to strongly consider Colorado’s Third District for the new BLM headquarters.”

Tipton previously had asked Zinke in a House committee hearing about the status of a BLM relocation and whether Colorado was being considered, and Zinke said, “My concern is making sure that we go to a community that is high quality of life, that is affordable, a great community that can compete for millennials that want to be there, and Colorado certainly fits that description.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has written to Zinke to encourage him to move the office to Grand Junction. U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has backed moving the headquarters to Colorado. Bennet said in a statement July 19, “It is good to hear the Department of the Interior is upholding its commitment to move the BLM headquarters west. We look forward to working closely with the department as it conducts its evaluation, and we re-extend our invitation to Secretary Zinke to visit Colorado to see for himself why there is no better home for the BLM headquarters.

“We must ensure this move is more than symbolic and provides the resources necessary to manage our public lands and improve agency decision making.”

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese called the comments by Combs “very exciting.”

With Mesa County being 72 percent federal land — much of that BLM land — Pugliese said it’s “of utmost importance” to have people making decisions on multiple uses of BLM land living in the community their decisions will affect.

A coalition has been working to market Grand Junction for the BLM’s new headquarters, and Pugliese said coalition members have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve gotten from elected officials.

Said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, “The fact that the state has thrown its support behind Grand Junction, that provides a lot of weight.”

Said Pugliese, “Obviously we’re in a great position because our cost of living is low, we’ve got affordable housing prices and wonderful outdoor recreation amenities.”