The Department of the Navy last week approved a Record of Decision (ROD) for the westward expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, while a county politician urged the Marines to “rethink” the plan.
The expansion will permanently overtake more than 100,000 acres of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, located about 20 miles east of Lucerne Valley, leaving a smaller portion for shared use between the Marines and the public.
“We’re 100 percent committed to the Marine Corps’ mission,” San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood said in a news release on Feb. 15, two days after the ROD was approved. “But we support expansion alternatives that will serve the Marines’ training goals while preserving off-roading areas.”
Dave Cole, organizer and co-founder of the popular King of the Hammers race, said the expansion would put an end to the race, potentially devastating local economies, while forcing off-road enthusiasts to find recreation places elsewhere.
“Outdoor enthusiasts aren’t going anywhere,” Cole said. “They’re still going to ride and hike and camp. Let them do it on land that’s public. Let them do it legally because (otherwise) they’ll do it illegally.”
If the acquisition goes through, Cole said his last year to hold King of the Hammers will be next year. In a previous email to the Daily Press, Mannweiler said the Marines “intend to begin training on newly acquired lands by early 2014.”
The expansion into the OHV area, which lies in Supervisor James Ramos’ Third District, will require congressional approval. The release states that Lovingood plans to urge congressional representatives to come up with a compromise that “allows for military expansion without limiting access to highly used off-roading lands.”
The Marines believe their current plan is a compromise.
“The preferred alternative isn’t the best one for meeting our needs,” U.S. Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Nicholas C. Mannweiler told the Daily Press in a written statement, “but it allows the Marine Corps to meet our training requirements and still allows the public to utilize Johnson Valley when it’s not being used for our (training) exercises — two times a year for a month.”
Off-roading enthusiasts are uneasy about how the shared use arrangement might work.
“All of your outlying high-speed racecourse (for King of the Hammers) would be closed because it would be in the perimeter of the Marine base,” said Harry Baker of the Partnership for Johnson Valley, a nonprofit group fighting the expansion. “The (Hammer trails) would be severely affected because the line between the permanent base and the shared use goes right through the Hammers area.”
Cole said the shared use plan reminds him of a comment he heard in regard to Alternative 6: “It’s like we’re going to share Disneyland, but we’re only giving you the parking lot.”