September 22, 2012

Decision delayed on expansion of Marine base at Twentynine Palms

Johnson Valley, west of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times

The Navy and Marine Corps have delayed a decision on a controversial proposal to expand the Marine base at Twentynine Palms to include parts of Johnson Valley, a popular spot with off-road vehicle enthusiasts.

The Marine Corps says the acreage is needed to allow for large-scale live-fire training exercises for up to three battalions converging on the same target.

But off-roaders say that expanding the base into Johnson Valley could destroy its use for jeeps, motorcycles, dune buggies, ATVs, "rock-crawlers" and other vehicles. Johnson Valley is the site of the annual King of the Hammers race, billed as the toughest desert race in the nation.

The Marine Corps has offered a compromise that allow would off-road use of the area during parts of the year. Still, an environmental impact report done for the Marine Corps drew more than 1,000 comments in a month, many highly negative.

The Navy and Marine Corps had hoped to have a decision by October, but that deadline has now been pushed to November or December in order to provide time to review the comments, the Marine Corps announced Friday.

The land is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. The expansion plan would be included in the annual defense budget, which would allow members of Congress to have a say.