February 4, 2009

Residents plead: "Please fo east"

Marines present expansion proposal: Residents fill the community center at MAC meeting

Lucerne Valley Leader

LUCERNE VALLEY - Nearly a year after the Marine Corps announced its intention to expand the base at Twentynine Palms the Municipal Advisory Council hosted project representatives Colonel Wes Weston and Joe Ross, BLM Project Manager at their most recent meeting.

Lucerne Valley residents, off-roaders, miners and other stakeholders filled the Lucerne Valley Community Center to hear about the proposed Twentynine Palms Marine Base Expansion and to express their concerns.

Back in April 2008 the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Marine Corps officials confirmed that permits had been issued to look into expanding the facility at Twentynine Palms possibly by as much as 100,000 acres into Johnson Valley. Since that time the Marine Base has proposed a total of six expansion alternatives.

The Johnson Valley alternative is the one that has the residents of Johnson Valley, Lucerne Valley and Yucca Valley the most concerned. More than 30 of those in attendance stood to express their views.

“I moved here because I am an off-roader,” said Robert Kleber, who currently lives on the boarder of the existing Marine Base. “I want my children to enjoy the desert as I have. If (the base) moves closer, we won’t be able to live here.”

Many residents who are not off-roaders noted that without the weekly influx of off-road dollars the town would be in serious economic trouble.

“Each weekend our economy gets a little boost,” said Bill Lembright of Lucerne Valley Market. “If that gets shut off, we’re done. Please go east.”

During a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, Ross explained the government’s Title 10 requirement that Marines be trained to operate a combined arms force in three dimensions: land, air and sea. This training will require an area that would hold an entire Expeditionary Brigade of anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 personnel and equipment. This training would take place for 48 to 72 hours of sustained offensive operations, twice a year.

“That is less than a week twice a year,” said MAC Chairman Tony Malone. “That doesn’t seem like very good use of our natural resources.”

Of those presenting views, most were very positive toward the Marine Base objective to provide soldiers with the best training possible, but asked that the expansion planners please consider the impacts that coming west into Johnson Valley will have on the Lucerne Valley way of life, as well as many others who use or will that area for recreation, mining, filming and possible future alternative energy sources.

“I respect what you are doing, but I choose to live here instead of Los Angeles so that my children do not have to listen to gun fire,” said a controlled, but emotional Robin Lopez. “If you expand toward Lucerne Valley, we will have to leave.”

Several young men in their late teens and early twenties spoke on the positive impact that Johnson Valley has had on their lives.

“Since I was just a little guy, I was in one of those motor-homes driving through Lucerne Valley every weekend. Spending quality time with my family riding motorcycles out here kept me from getting involved with drugs and gangs,” said Jensen Kime of Pasadena.

“I represent several mining interests,” said Doug Shumway of TerraMins Inc., Apple Valley. “There are many valuable mineral sites in that area that will be completely blocked off if the Johnson Valley area is closed. “This will cause negative economical impacts with San Bernardino County.”

The group “Partnership for Johnson Valley” also had representatives at the meeting from Encino.

Out of the 32 people who made comments only two were disruptive: one who wouldn’t stop when his time was up, and one who wheeled, under wraps, an old rusty World War II practice bomb up to the front of the room and dramatically whipped away the cover in front of the Colonel Weston to demonstrate her fear that her “children” might stumble upon whatever the Marines might leave behind.

She then began to verbally assault the Colonel, calling him a liar for telling the group that there would be no live ammunition used. The MAC board reminded her that in the PowerPoint presentation, Ross had stated specifically that the Marines would use live fire. As she started to get aggressive again, several people in the audience told her to stop and she eventually relented.

“I am very proud of Lucerne Valley!” stated MAC Chairman Tony Malone after the close of public comments. “And I am very proud of all of you for treating these people with respect, and for treating yourselves with respect.”

The meeting was then adjourned and those in attendance had the opportunity to speak with the Marine Base representatives and to view the maps of the six expansion alternatives.