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Monday, April 21, 2008

Marine Corps Surveyors eye Johnson Valley to Expand Desert Combat Training

By KATHERINE ROSENBERG, Lucerne Valley Leader Editor

April 8, 2008

TWENTYNINE PALMS — Bureau of Land Management and United States Marine Corps officials this week confirmed that permits have been issued to look into expanding the facility at Twentynine Palms — possibly by as much as 100,000 acres into Johnson Valley.

The land acquisition is part of an effort to become the nation’s premiere combat training facility, said Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox, the public affairs chief at the Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center.

“The Marine Corps is looking at areas contiguous to the base, including the Johnson Valley, but no final decisions have been made regarding what alternatives will be pursued and analyzed,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “When the alternatives are finalized, we will inform the public.”

Permits were issued to conduct surveys of cultural and environmental impact, said BLM Chief of Resources, Mickey Quillman, who is based out of the Barstow office.

While both Quillman and Cox warned that the proposed project would be still be many years off, Quillman conceded there could be an impact on Lucerne Valley, in at least as much as noise levels are concerned.

“It would be used for military training — a combination of live fire and force on force training,” Quillman said.

Cox said that there is currently no training facility in the nation that can support the training requirements proposed by the Marine Corps, and that Twentynine Palms has been tasked with rectifying that.

“It is imperative that Marines receive the most realistic training before deploying into a combat environment that demands split-second life or death decisions. The potential land parcel additions would allow Marines to ‘train as they fight’ as a large-scale Marine Air Ground Task Force, in particular a Marine Expeditionary Brigade,” Cox said.

Quillman said that while the surveys are taking place, the process will require Notice of Intent — which will open the discussion to the public, through scoping meetings — and the proposal of alternative locations. Right now, he said it is unclear which direction the base will eventually decide on expanding into.

“This process of simply figuring out what land the base might actually need to meet the Marine Corps training requirements and how it affects other interests could take anywhere from three to five years” said Jim Ricker, assistant chief of staff for the G-5 training center.

That process, Cox said, “will involve a great deal of input from the local community and the wide range of stakeholders.” Quillman added that of particular concern are the off-road vehicle community and proposed solar projects.

At the most recent LVEDA meeting, Quillman said the base planned to take 100,000 acres of Johnson Valley, but amended his statement when speaking to Leader staff.

“It’s misleading to say the Marines are going to take 100,000 acres of Johnson Valley … we are looking at a number of locations,” Quillman said. “In a perfect world I don’t see anything happening for at least five years — we’ve just opened a dialogue.”

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