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LUCERNE VALLEY • Despite a growing chorus of opposition from local residents and leaders, the U.S. Marine Corps is still eyeing a westward expansion of its Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.
If the plan is approved by Congress, the Marines would permanently take over a large portion of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area east of Lucerne Valley. The terrain is prized by off-roading enthusiasts around the country and hosts large annual races such as King of the Hammers.
Off-roading groups, residents and local politicians — including San Bernardino County Supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt and Neil Derry — have proposed alternatives to the westward expansion.
Derry and Mitzelfelt, both Marine Corps veterans, said in a press release last month that they “support the base expanding to the eastern study area, where the impacts to OHV and other recreation, filming and mining would be far less than by expanding into Johnson Valley, which at 189,000 acres is the largest OHV area in the country and contributes an estimated $70 million annually to the local economy.”
But the final environmental impact statement released by the Department of the Navy still supports a plan that would give 146,667 acres of the Johnson Valley OHV area to the Marine Corps. Of that land, roughly 108,500 acres would be taken over permanently. The remaining portion would be open to the public 10 months per year and closed for two months of training exercises.
At a previous public meeting, Marine Corps Capt. Nicholas C. Mannweiler said the expansion is necessary for large-scale combat training and called the shared-use plan “a goodfaith effort ... to develop what we thought was a compromise between our training needs and what’s best for the community.”
Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association Chairman Chuck Bell said the impact could be devastating for Lucerne Valley, a tiny economy that relies on off-roaders, film crews and other visitors for survival.
“It’s probably the difference between breaking even and going under,” Bell said. “Their own summary states that some small businesses are going to fail. They’ve completely shined it on. They’ve failed miserably to quantify the damage done to Lucerne Valley as well as Johnson Valley.”
After the public comment period ends Aug. 27, the plan will be submitted to Congress, which will make a final decision.
Kris Reilly is the editor of the Lucerne Valley Leader. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (760) 248-7878.
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