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By PETER DAY, LucerneValleyLeader.com
LUCERNE VALLEY • Like off-road racers throttling their engines at a King of Hammers competition, Saturday’s meeting to discuss changes in the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area was at times explosive.
“When I ride with my son am I going to run over a bomb?” asked one man at the meeting held at the Lucerne Valley Community Center.
James M. Ricker, a retired sergeant major who represented the Marine Corps, said no bombs would be used during military exercises in shared-use areas and a thorough sweep afterward would ensure the removal of potentially dangerous materials.
Despite Ricker’s attempts to answer a variety of questions, many of the 70 in attendance expressed skepticism and displeasure in the changes in the historic off-highway area.
“I thought the BLM promised to keep Johnson Valley open forever,” said one man. “What happened?”
The two-hour Resource Management Group meeting was called by Bureau of Land Management and Marine Corps to discuss the future locations of the Marine’s company objective areas within the Shared Use Area for military training in accordance with Military Land Withdrawals Act of 2013.
According to the act, 79,000 acres to the west of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and 19,000 acres to the south are designated an Exclusive Military Use Area. About 53,000 acres is designated to be a Shared Use Area “during any period in which the land is not being used for military training” for public use “as well as natural resources conservation.” The area would be used for military training for two 30-day periods per year.
The presenters asked for assistance on which of three 22-acre “company objective areas” — to be located within the shared-use areas — the OHV would prefer be used by the Marine Corp. The law requires two areas be designed for training. “Small, static, short range explosives” will be used in the two “company objective areas.”
NOTIFYING THE PUBLIC
Most of the audience questions centered on how and when the Marine Corps and BLM would notify the OHV community about future military exercises in the two 22-acre areas.
The presenters said that they would give the public 12 to 18 months notice when the areas would be closed to the public.
“Training of this level takes 18-24 months to prepare for,” Ricker said. “It’s a huge endeavor.”
But several off-road event organizers complained that their events take at least a year, maybe even two years, to schedule, promote and organize.
The method for communicating closures to the public also brought a heated discussion. The presenters suggested they would send out emails with the help of an email sign up list.
But attendees said some people, especially those who live in remote parts of the desert, don’t have an internet connection.
One woman suggested a website be created to inform the public on upcoming military closures.
“If I want to go to Disneyland, I check on Disneyland.com,” she said. “This is Disneyland for people.”
BLM presenter Katrina Symons, who manages the Barstow Field Office, reminded attendees that the event was designed to help all parties move forward and develop communication, not lament the law passed by Congress late last year.
“Why are we taking steps back and trying to argue things?” she asked.
Despite the high emotions, Ricker thanked participants for their attendance and said the meeting was productive.
“Great ideas were exchanged here,” he said.
FIELD TRIP TO AREAS
The Bureau of Land Management and Marine Corps will host a field trip to the three 22-acre “company objective areas” in the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area on Sept. 6. The purpose is to give the public a up-close view of the areas and request their input. To participate, drive to one of the areas.
“We want to get your input,” Ricker said.
The GPS coordinates: Location 1: 116.504, 34.449402 Location 2: 116.516, 34.425999 Location 3; 116.441, 34.391399