JOHNSON VALLEY, CA - With just under a week until federal sequestration cuts are set to go into effect, the Secretary of the Navy is curiously seeking Congressional approval to move forward with base expansion at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. Spanning nearly 600,000 acres, the combat center is the largest Marine base in the world with a comparable land mass to Rhode Island. Despite strong public opposition and a potential sequester that will cut tens of billions from the Pentagon budget this year, the Marines are asking Congress to approve an acquisition of 168,151 additional acres; roughly the land equivalent of the country of Singapore.
The majority of land targeted for expansion is an extremely popular recreation area in Johnson Valley, CA – The expansion will cost tax payers hundreds of millions. More than $120 Million alone will be required to buy out existing mining claims. The Marines also estimate the expansion will require adding 110 new personnel despite looming budget cuts.
“The Marines have an alternative that would meet their training purposes and wouldn’t require spending millions buying out public rights to public land. So the question remains; if they can’t afford it and they don’t really need it, why continue with this expansion when faced with force reductions and looming budget cuts?” asked Dave Cole, founder of “King of The Hammers”, a popular off road event that attracts more than 30,000 spectators annually to Johnson Valley. The alternative that Cole references is outlined in the Marines Environmental Impact Statement regarding base expansion as proposed Alternative 4.
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The Secretary of the Navy released the Record of Decision (ROD) outlining a plan to move forward with expansion last week. In releasing the ROD, Marines have largely ignored more than 40,000 comments of opposition as well as a congressional bill signed into law in late 2012 requiring the Marines further investigate the economic impact of expansion. Despite the Congressional bill, the Marines presented a report to Congress last week that continued to cite data from 2004 with no additional research conducted by the Marines.
“In 2004, the economy was strong and we were looking for Bin Laden. Nine years later we are leaving Afghanistan, facing dire economic conditions at home and grasping to save what is left of our public lands,” said Fred Wiley, CEO of the Off Road Business Association. He continued by saying, “For the Marines to cite outdated data as justification for expansion is irresponsible. We hope Congress sees through this and fails to approve an expensive and unnecessary expansion.”
The Marines are expected to seek congressional approval as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
About California Motorized Recreational Council (CMRC): CMRC is based out of Bakersfield, CA and combines the land use efforts of the eight largest Off Highway Vehicle organizations in California.