Congressional Leadership Encourages Continued Talks
At the urging of members of Congress, including House Majority whip Kevin McCarthy, the United States Marine Corps met with key members of the California Motorized Recreational Council (CMRC) December 5th 2012 in Twentynine Palms, CA. Major General James Kessler led the discussion and the Marines re-established their position regarding the Twentynine Palms base expansion. The Marines preferred expansion route would consume the majority of land that currently belongs to a popular off-highway vehicle (OHV) area in Johnson Valley, CA.
With a footprint larger than the state of Rhode Island, The Twentynine Palms base is the largest Marine base in the world. With the expansion, the USMC is hoping to gain an additional 167,000 acres. The Johnson Valley OHV area is home to many popular off road events, including 50 years of District37motorcycle races and one of the fastest growing motorsport events in the country, King of The Hammers. “This is the last great wilderness experience for motorized recreation in California” said Jeff Knoll Chairman of the CMRC sub-committee on base expansion.
The USMC maintains that the expansion is needed to insure the proper training of its Mechanicalized Expeditionary Battalions (MEBs). Of the six expansion alternatives outlined by the Marines, the USMC continues to prefer option 6, which affects 147,000 acres of OHV land. The Marines do not currently have a plan in place to secure the new border with fencing which could present a security risk for the Marines. “If the Marines move their boundaries into an area that has been open to OHV use for generations, popular opinion believes, that it will likely take 5 years to safely secure this perimeter.” said Fred Wiley, President of the Off Road Business Association. He continued by saying, “However, we believe the OHV community created a plan where the Marines could start training in six months, under the use of a permit.”
“The Marines study outlines six alternatives that meet the minimum requirements for training. Our plan uses an existing alternative but asks that the USMC use the property under a permit with the BLM rather than the Marines taking outright ownership of the land, this way the public can continue using this area when the Marines are not.” said Knoll. CMRC believes utilizing a BLM permit process will meet the requirements of the USMC training, reduce the cost of expansion to US tax payers, continue the stream of $71Million annually spent by OHV enthusiasts in the communities surrounding Johnson Valley, and keep the majority of the land open for public use.
Jim Woods, President of the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA) pointed out that “CMRC is a very focused group who has made a priority to seek out solutions that best represent the interests of the American people. With the fiscal cliff looming, I don’t think the Marines have considered the true costs of their expansion.”
The Marines hope to release their final decision in early January, which will leave the expansion in the hands of Congress. Last July, thousands of OHV enthusiasts contacted their federal representatives asking them to save Johnson Valley. This week’s meeting with the USMC was a direct result of those efforts.
The CMRC, with the help of dedicated OHV enthusiasts, environmental groups and local residents to Johnson Valley, will continue its campaign to save the Johnson Valley OHV area. Their plan is to educate congressional leadership, the general public and the Marines regarding their proposed alternative. “This campaign has proven that pro active participation in our government can affect change” said Knoll “Without the engagement of the OHV Community the gates might well have already been installed, and I am proud that we have come this far.” Those interested in assisting with the campaign to save Johnson Valley should visit www.savejohnsonvalley.org or www.facebook.com/savethehammers.