October 29, 2008

BLM hosts marine base expansion meeting

Recent meetings were informational only. Official scoping meetings will be held in December.

Jeanne Kiloh, a weekend resident of Johnson Valley, talks with Marine Corps representatives about how the expansion could specifically affect her family and the property they own. Staff photo by Katherine Rosenberg

Lucerne Valley Leader

VICTORVILLE - The Bureau of Land Management Friday hosted two informational meetings on the potential expansion of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base into the Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle recreation area.

The purpose of the meetings, which were also held in Twentynine Palms last week, was to expand the stakeholder list as well as to give area residents the opportunity to better understand future plans.

“We’re information gathering and data sharing in an open house-style event as part of the land withdrawal application,” said Roxie Trost, a Field Manager for the BLM’s Barstow office.

On Sept. 15 the U.S. Department of the Navy filed an application requesting the Secretary of the Interior to process a land withdrawal ad reservation of public lands for military training exercises at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center —the nation’s largest such training center.

The request was for 420,000 acres, including 348,000 acres of BLM land, some of which comprises the 135,000 acres requested from the Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle site. At its current 188,000 acres, that represents 70 percent of the area that would be off-limits to recreators.

Trost said that the BLM is a cooperating agency, while the Marines are the lead in the Environmental Impact Statement review period that is upcoming. That is expected to take two years, and in the meantime, official scoping meetings —where residents and stakeholders can state their opinion the record — are to begin in December.

And while Trost said that the idea of these meetings is to encourage residents to become a part of the process from the beginning, she fears some people in attendance won’t go to the scoping meetings because they attended the informational meeting.

That won’t be the case for Jeanne Kiloh, who came to the meeting to gather packets and all the information she can arm herself with before petitioning politicians and gearing up neighbors for the scoping meetings.

“We own a property between Johnson Valley and Landers and from the looks of it, we aren’t too far from the base line — and by not too far I mean 1,000 feet,” Kiloh said. “We’re not too happy so we came out to protest , but then you find out that the President and Congress will make the final decision and it makes you feel a little powerless.”

Kiloh calls herself a weekender, and said she is a group of about 50 people who live and recreate in the same area. She is planning to meet with them to share what she learned at the meeting.

“My attitude about it is we need to train our troops and I understand why they need more space, but not in my backyard. I’d like to give them the wilderness side to the east,” Kiloh said.

Captain Amy Malugani of the Marine Corps said many people feel like Kiloh in that they support the expansion to better equip the troops.

Malugani explained that the extra space is needed in order to train a large-scale Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which can consist of 3,000 to 20,000 Marines and Navy Sailors in one exercise. Training all at once is the only way to properly train, she added.

And as the Marines set about determining which path is best, the goal is to work with the BLM and the stakeholders and residents to make it a win-win situation.

“I can say this confidently: The Marine Corps, we’re good neighbors and good stewards of the environment and we will continue to be just that,” Malugani said.