U.S. MARINE CORPS
Marines from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment discuss the best course of action in proceeding through
one of the urban warfare training areas designed to replicate
a Middle Eastern town at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., in April 2007.
Because of MCAGCC’s deficiency, in the early 1990s
the Corps requested a Center for Naval Analysis study of
alternatives, which concluded that Twentynine Palms is
the only available U.S. location with potentially enough
land and airspace to meet the MEB training requirements.
But that would require a significant expansion of the base.
The Marines and the Department of the Navy examined land on all sides of the base for possible expansion areas. They then conducted a series of public
meetings last December to explain their objectives and
receive comments from local citizens, governments
and other interested organizations.
That produced nearly 10,000 public comments,
which officials used to develop “a range of reasonable
alternatives” to meet MEB training requirements.
Last year, the Marines initiated a detailed environmental impact study (EIS), under the provision of the National
Environmental Protection Act, that will examine various
options for expansion and a “no-action alternative.”
The EIS will analyze the potential environmental
and socio-economic effects of the alternatives and
receive input from public agencies, state, local and tribal governments, local businesses and conservationists,
“recreation enthusiasts,” developers and individuals,
according to the Marine position paper.
On June 9, the Marines removed 60,000 acres from
the study, which left a total of about 360,000 acres
The EIS will look at five alternatives.
Alternative one would add 180,000 acres west of the
current base and 19,000 acres on the southeast boundary. Option two would reduce the western addition to
107,000 acres, but retain the 19,000 acres to the south.
Alternative three would add 160,000 acres to the east
and the southeastern section.
SEAPOWER / AUGUST 2009
The fourth alternative would use the same areas as
alternative one, but conduct the training exercises to
prevent unexploded ordnance in the western addition.
Alternative five would add only the 180,000 acres to
the west, with the same provisions to prevent unexploded munitions there.
The no-action alternative would not add any land
and require the training maneuvers to stay within the
After the 60,000-acre reduction, 86 percent of the
land under study is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land
Management (BLM), which is participating in the EIS.
The Federal Aviation Administration also is involved,
because of the need to restrict use of the airspace above
the training area to attack aircraft and helicopters.
If the Marines decide to move forward on one of the
expansion options, Congress would have to authorize
the transfer from BLM to the military and provide funds
to acquire any privately owned land and for any construction or mitigation efforts required.
Despite federal ownership of most of the land, gaining
access for Marine training will not be easy. Although it
may look desolate, the desert area in and around
MCAGCC is home to a surprising amount of plant and
animal life, some of which is endangered or threatened,
thus requiring special protection.
The primary endangered species in the area is the
desert tortoise, which could be killed and its habitat
damaged by the training. Conservationists already
have expressed concern about the impact on the tortoise and fragile vegetation in the areas under study.
MCAGCC has worked with government and private
conservation organizations for years to protect the tortoise and the Sonoran pronghorn antelope on the base.
And as part of the EIS, the Marine Corps “will study
ways to mitigate any unavoidable adverse environmental impacts,” the position paper said.
But the proposed expansion also faces a radically different competing claim from off-road vehicle enthusiasts,
who run dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes
through a large stretch of sand, called Johnson Valley, in
the middle of the proposed western addition. The off-roaders’ Web sites and electronic chat rooms already are
buzzing with protests to the expansion plans.
It is likely there also will be objections from some of
the relatively few individuals who own land in the
study areas, either for ranching or because they love
the isolation of the high desert.
Regner, however, believes there is a compromise
that could reduce some of the opposition.
In an interview before he left his legislative post,
Regner said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and
Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis, whose district includes
Twentynine Palms, support the expansion. He said they