The object is to be able to train three battalions safely for a minimum of 48 hours at a time, in live fire combined air-
ground combat. We know what that can sound and feel like. The noise we already experience has greatly increased
The Marine Base was here when we moved here. We were used to it. It was our warriors making noise. But already
the increase in levels and duration of the noise and vibration of exploding ordnance and helicopter sorties does not
bode well for our peace of mind or our good relations with the Base even as it is today. What will it be like when the
war moves closer?
Most of the options for expansion include the Johnson Valley Open Area, just cross Hwy. 247 from the community of
Johnson Valley. This is 189,000 acres of public lands set aside by the Bureau of Land Management years ago for
recreational use. Open access is allowed for off-highway vehicles. Many people own property in the communities of
Johnson Valley and Landers just because of the nearby Open Area.
But this is not just a question of having fun vs. national security.
The southern boundaries of the area segregated by the BLM to be studied for the expansion is close to the properties
of several Johnson Valley residents, and at one point lies only two miles north of historic Old Woman Springs Rd.
(Highway 247). This study area extends almost 20 miles westward from the existing Marine Base, and includes a
unique territory of desert, mountains, dry lakes, archeological, natural, recreational and cultural resources.
The map posted here shows the most recent boundaries of the study in Johnson Valley. It includes the popular family
camping spots at Means Dry Lake and Soggy Dry Lake, as well as the the world-famous Hammers rock crawling
trails. Public access is allowed during the study, which lasts about 2 years.
This vast recreation land is within a few hours' drive of the megalopolis of the Los Angeles Basin. The expansion
would confiscate it from the people of the State of California. The already staggering economy will suffer even more
with the loss of the many visitors from all over the country, and indeed, overseas.
This expansion would place an enormous burden on other already over-used recreational facilities in San Bernardino
It will have a huge impact on the all four of the historic Homestead Valley communities, on our roads, our air quality,
the visual integrity of the desert landscape, our property values. It threatens a way of life chosen by ourselves and
our neighbors, away from the big city, in rural desert surroundings. Many residents are low income and could not be
able to move away from this intrusion.
The Homestead Valley Community Council has written a resolution opposing this Marine Base expansion proposal.
There is a proposal to expand the 29 Palms Marine Base (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center) into the
designated Open Riding Area in Johnson Valley, across Hwy 247 from our community.
The expansion plans have been in the works for several years. A study was begun under the National
Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). The Marines presented six alternatives for expansion; Johnson Valley was the
one they wanted most. They told us the terrain to the east was not as suitable, though there few people live nearby to
be disturbed by 48 hours minimum live fire air-ground combat.
Scoping meetings held in December 2008 had a better attendance than anticipated, since the planners obviously did
not know anyone lives here. Several focus group meetings were held at our Community Center, hosted by the
Partnership for Johnson Valley. (This group began as a coalition of off-road groups active in land use matters such as
California 4WD Association and Friends of Giant Rock. They soon championed the cause of people and businesses
here. Many visitors come to Johnson Valley for reasons other than off-roading, but we are all off-roaders in the sense
we can’t get very far out there without an off-road vehicle of some sort.)
JVIA wrote a comment for the Environmental Impact Study, strongly opposing the loss of these public lands, the
economic impact it would have on nearby businesses, the County of San Bernardino, and the State of California. We
questioned the actual need for this expansion, as the Marine training is already excellent.
In their comment of January 2009, County Land Use Services agreed with us:
“The EIS must include a full justification for the expansion. Much of the justification that the County and public have
seen to-date in preliminary presentations involves the need for large units and large-scale ground maneuver
training. The Department of the Navy should assess the warfare situations that may likely face Marines in the next
25 years and whether the more likely future scenarios will be similar to the current engagements of small units in
“The public has expressed several concerns regarding existing uses of the Johnson Valley property for recreation, by
the film industry and for development of valid existing mining rights. The County concurs that those issues must be
addressed, including potential off-site effects that could occur should such current uses be displaced. The EIS must
address and propose possible mitigation for the public values lost. If recreation use is simply displaced without
providing alternative areas for use within the same travel parameters, then the EIS must address the costs to both
BLM and local law enforcement agencies to deal with trespass and resource damage that would likely occur.
“While the NEPA process focuses primarily on environmental impacts, we urge a comprehensive consideration of
socio-economic impacts. Many businesses in the Lucerne Valley area survive on the basis of the outdoor recreation
use of Johnson Valley. The EIS should address the potential losses in that area that might occur as a result of lost
“Hazardous materials related to unexploded ordnance, ordnance fragments, and noise impacts from maneuvers
should be addressed relative to health and safety of residents in the vicinity.
Air quality issues related to dust and other particulate matter that would result from large scale maneuvers must be
addressed. While we are aware that the current ambient air quality may well be affected negatively from recreation
uses, that use is largely limited to weekends. Military training would, we anticipate, be much more intensive and
over longer periods of time.”
Maybe if they fenced the entire area, instead of leaving the border largely unmarked as it is today, we might believe
that unknowing visitors will not find themselves trespassing (a Federal offense, or possible injury or death).
After analysis of the comments received during the scoping period, the Marines came up with another alternative.
Only 1% of thousands of comments and petition signatures urged they take over Johnson Valley.
So their new Alternative Six tried to appease the 99% of objectors by:
1) reducing the area to be withdrawn from public use (in the northwest, stopping the takeover at the Edison power
lines, no doubt because re-routing the line would involve the Public Utilities Commission).
2) setting aside the rest of Johnson Valley for exclusive military use, except for a small portion to the south:
3) this remnant includes the camping area by Means Dry Lake and part of the world-famous Hammers rock trails. It
would be designated as joint use…they would battle over it two months a year, and we would be allowed onto it for
the rest of the year. BUT only after the battlefield is declared safe for us to enter by the Commander, and who know
how long that will take?
Alternative Six seems even more out of touch with reality than the original plans. There would be enormous
difficulty notifying visitors that the joint use area is closed. Many visitors today are just finding out about the
expansion plans, after over two years of publicity.
Carl Ripaldi, an environmental specialist of LA Metro and a Johnson Valley property owner, is studying the Draft
Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) recently released.
Among his comments so far is, “I do not support the partial usage scheme because some day, some one or ones will
be injured or killed. We are vulnerable to human error. And despite assurances of the military, sometime, someday,
someone “woulda, coulda, shoulda!!’’ But won’t!! Live ordnance will be fired or left within an area accessed for
recreation and there will be a tragedy. Friendly fire happens all the time in training and combat exercises. There is no
guarantee that it won’t happen here.
“The area is too big to monitor and patrol.”
And if tragedy or trespass occurs, then the remnant, too, will be closed forever.
Carl also mentions that the DEIS says the expansion will have no visual impacts to the residents of the area. The
glaring lights of Baghdad City and newly installed beacons are already an impact, and they are on the existing Base.
New beacons and desert maneuvers will light up our dark skies even more, and they are not addressing this.
And he mentions lack of restriction from the airspace above our homes; low flying helicopters are already terrible.
As far as the escalating noise is concerned, they project doubling ordnance activity including dropping bombs from
aircraft. Carl says they make no mention of vibrations at all. Broken windows miles from the explosions, empty
tortoise shells near the border, an increase in anxiety levels among the neighbors, they have to know this is
Plus under Cultural Resources, they do not mention the historic eligibility of Johnson Valley or other neighboring
homestead communities, and the impact of the light, noise and vibration on them.
The recent 150 mph wind dramatizes the likelihood of disruption of training schedules. Accuracy hitting the targets
can be questioned with unpredictable high winds. The last bombardment right near the border with Johnson Valley
makes this idea even scarier.
What can we do?
Go to one of these meetings this week in Joshua Tree, Ontario or Victorville:
The Bureau of Land Management currently administers the public lands in question. BLM and Marine Corps
representatives will be on hand to discuss and answer questions on the proposals.
• Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 5 to 9 p.m., Copper Mountain College, Bell Center Gym, 6162 Rotary Way, Joshua Tree.
• Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 5 to 9 p.m., Ontario High School Gym, 901 W. Francis St, Ontario.
• Thursday, April 14, 2011, 5 to 9 p.m., Hilton Garden Inn Conference Center, 12603 Mariposa Rd., Victorville.
Comments on the segregation of the land or DEIS may be submitted at these public meetings in writing, or a
stenographer will be available if you want to submit an oral comment at the meeting.
All written comments must be postmarked or received by May 26, 2011, to be considered. Written comments may
Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest
ATTN: 29 Palms EIS Project Manager
1220 Pacific Highway
San Diego, CA 92132
You can download a copy of the DEIS ( a huge file), or find where hard copies are available for review, on
BUT REMEMBER YOUR COMMENTS ARE NOT VOTES. This matter will be decided in the US Congress a few years
from now. Senator Feinstein in her “Desert Protection” bill last year, said Johnson Valley would have national
protection as a recreational area–the part that the Marines don’t want. Congressman Jerry Lewis thinks the Marines
should have whatever they wish. So no help so far from our representatives from California. Not a surprise.
If you have family or friends in other states, they can ask their representatives to vote against this. Any help will
Support groups like the California Association of 4WD Clubs as they spread the word all over the country. See
The question always arises, will any of this do any good? Who knows? But doing nothing won’t do any good either.
Johnson Valley is public land, set aside long ago for free riding on any trail, camping and family recreation. We have
very little freedom left to explore anywhere we want. We live here and own property here to have more quiet days
and stars at night.
This is only one of the threats to our rural community, but it is The Big One.
Remember to submit your comments before May 26.