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Bureau Of Land Management Considers Move West


The Federal Bureau of Land Management is thinking about moving its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to the western United States, where the vast majority of federal public land is located. Cities out west are jockeying to get the nod, trying to prove their western cred to the Department of the Interior, which manages the BLM. Dan Boyce has the story.

DAN BOYCE, BYLINE: At Denver's recent Outdoor Retailer trade show, the downtown convention center was packed with top adventure brands, like the Northface, Salomon skis, Mountain Hardwear and, of course, the city of Grand Junction.

ROBIN BROWN: The most common question is, why are you guys here?

BOYCE: That's Robin Brown from the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. Their booth's set up to recruit businesses to the western Colorado town. And their biggest prospect right now - the BLM. The city may be one of the smallest in contention to house the new headquarters with its 500 or so workers, but Brown says they're competitive, with highway infrastructure, high-speed Internet access and more.

BROWN: It's not a pie-in-the-sky, man, we really wish we could have the BLM headquarters. It makes perfect sense.

BOYCE: On Colorado's western slope, Grand Junction is on the doorstep of nearly a million acres of BLM land, ranging from high alpine mountains to desert. Brown and other Grand Junction representatives, even Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, have already met with top brass at the Interior Department, including Secretary Ryan Zinke, to talk up the advantages of their town. One possible sticking point - the city's airport does not have any direct flights to Washington, D.C. But Brown says Grand Junction is cheap, which matters, too.

BROWN: Secretary Zinke told Governor Hickenlooper that cost of living was more important than even having the direct flight.

BOYCE: Boosters from another western city are also focusing on things other than the airport.

CHARITY NELSON: Charity Nelson. I'm the director of economic development at the Boise Valley Economic Partnership.

BOYCE: Boise, Idaho's been making a lot of top-10 lists lately for attributes like work-life balance.

NELSON: You know, a lot of things that companies are often looking for is really healthy both economic and population and employment growth. And we certainly have those statistics right now.

BOYCE: Idaho is also about 60 percent public land, nearly twice Colorado's percentage. Still, Nelson says it kind of depends on what the BLM wants. Do they want a bigger city or to be a big fish in a smaller pond?

NELSON: Every company has things that are more critical for them, and so they're going to weight all of the different criteria slightly differently. And sometimes, that plays in your favor, and sometimes, it doesn't.

BOYCE: Boise has not yet been approached, nor made any presentations to the Interior Department. But folks in Salt Lake City are working on this. Val Hale is the executive director of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development. When I ask him where the BLM should land...

VAL HALE: If they were completely objective, it would be fairly easy to answer that question.

BOYCE: The state does have a slightly higher public land percentage than even Idaho - great quality of life, high-speed Internet access, all the rest. And then there's the airport.

HALE: Salt Lake International Airport is undergoing a $3.2 billion expansion.

BOYCE: With plenty of direct flights to D.C., Governor Gary Herbert pitched the interior secretary on Utah during Zinke's visit to the state in July. However, Hale says, with decisions like this, subjectivity is bound to come into play.

HALE: You know somebody likes a particular area or state.

BOYCE: But if they're objective, he says, Salt Lake City is in a pretty good position. Members of Colorado's congressional delegation have been told the BLM will spend the next six months or so checking out all the attributes of different potential sites. For NPR News, I'm Dan Boyce in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUFFER LIKE G DID'S "...BECAUSE WE CARE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dan Boyce moved to the Inside Energy team at Rocky Mountain PBS in 2014, after five years of television and radio reporting in his home state of Montana. In his most recent role as Montana Public Radio’s Capitol Bureau Chief, Dan produced daily stories on state politics and government.