Marines Record of Decision Will Not Stop United Effort to Save Johnson Valley

On February 13th, 2013, the Secretary of the Navy released their Record of Decision (ROD) regarding the expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms California. The ROD was initially expected in September but has been delayed more than 6 months due to a united effort from both the neighboring communities to 29 Palms and the off road community to stop the base expansion onto public lands.  Normally the ROD is considered the final step in the base expansion process; however, due to overwhelming opposition, the Marines still have many obstacles to overcome in their efforts to expand.
With the release of the ROD, the Department of Defense must submit a bill that requires Congress’ approval to withdraw the land from public use to be given to the Department of Defense. Congress’ approval may prove difficult for the Marines as Congress passed a separate bill requiring the Marines further investigate and submit a report to Congress exploring the negative financial impact the expansion. The bill also requires the Marines further investigate alternatives that could allow training and public use to co-exist. This report is due to Congress by April 1st. As of February 13, 2013 this report had not been submitted to Congress.
Additionally, a petition submitted to opposing the base expansion has received more than 27,000 signatures meeting the necessary requirement for a formal response from the White House. The response is expected shortly after the petition’s completion on February 14th.  With a response pending from the executive branch and additional requirements from the legislative branch not yet addressed, The Marines release of the ROD seems premature as input from either branches could significantly impact the options for expansion.
Opponents to  base expansion state that the Marines desired alternative will unnecessarily cost tax payers millions as well as negatively impact the economies of neighboring communities and small businesses that rely on Johnson Valley for their livelihood. “The biggest question we are asking of the Marines is why do they need this land? And they have yet to give the public a good answer.” said Dave Cole, Founder of King of The Hammers, a popular BLM-approved off road permitted special event that attracts more than 30,000 spectators from around the world, and takes place in Johnson Valley each February.
The Marines have publicly stated they are reducing their forces by 20,000 over the next 5 years but claim the expansion is needed to do larger training exercises. More than $120 Million in tax payer dollars has been set aside to buy out existing mining claims in Johnson Valley. Additional money will be spent on securing the new borders. “This land has been open to the public for so long, that there will be families coming out to recreate that will have no idea that they are trespassing on a Marine Base.” said Fred Wiley of the Off Road Business Association. Many estimate it could be 5 years before the new perimeters are secured for training purposes.
An alternative has been proposed that could meet the Marines training requirements without negative financial impact to tax payers or permanently closing public lands. The California Motorized Recreational Council (CMRC) has proposed the Marines look at Alternative 4 of the 6 alternatives currently proposed by the Marines. This alternative has the Marines training from west to east and would keep live fire training off of public lands. If the Marines chose this alternative and worked with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to obtain permits to train, the land could be co-used.
“While we are disappointed that the Marines chose to release their Record of Decision prior to submitting their report to Congress, we are confident that this Record of Decision will not be the final course of action.”  Said Jeff Knoll, ORBA member and CMRC representative, he continued by saying, “The fight to Save Johnson Valley is far from over.”
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