While the Interior Department is dispersing the employees to several states, the bureau’s top leadership will move to Grand Junction.
“Standing up the headquarters is another step in providing better service to the American people and our neighbors in the West,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who grew up in the town of Rifle, an hour’s drive from Grand Junction.
In a statement, the department said the lease at 760 Horizon Drive “will provide BLM with office space for national senior leadership and support staff,” including 19 vacant staff positions that are now being advertised. “The lease terms will provide the bureau with significant cost savings compared to the current arrangement in D.C.,” the statement said.
The four-story office building with two wings is home to more than just Chevron, Laramie Energy and a branch of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. In addition, the building has offices of Shaw, a major construction firm; Moody Insurance Agency; ProStar Geocorp, a provider of geospatial software; and a firm providing cloud storage for school districts, according to one of the building’s tenants.
Located on the Rockies’ Western Slope, Grand Junction lies in the heart of a natural gas reservoir, and the region hosts a number of oil and gas operations. While more than 90 percent of the bureau’s employees already work in the West, Interior officials said they were moving most of the staff to the region so they could work closer to the people most affected by the agency’s decisions.
One environmental group that focuses on public lands criticized the move.
“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 the Western Values Project. “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.”
In an email Saturday, BLM spokesman Chris Tollefson said the location of the bureau’s new headquarters was unrelated to the other tenants.
“Their process to procure the lease was open, competitive and fair, irrespective of other lessees at the properties of interest,” Tollefson said, adding that the advantages of the new site “are completely unrivaled to the inflated costs of Washington D.C. and the detriment of having our leadership stationed more than a thousand miles from the majority of people we serve every day.
“To suggest the lease agreement was chosen to afford unethical access to select special interest groups is flagrant and ironic given the access to special interests in Washington as opposed to western communities.”