endorsed a Marine proposal that would give the off-road
riders continued access to the Johnson Valley area at certain times, apparently when no training is scheduled.
To make that access possible, the designated off-road
areas would be “non-kinetic areas — no bullets,” he said.
That would be provided by alternatives four and five.
Feinstein and Lewis played key roles in the Army’s
successful effort to make a similar expansion of its
National Training Center (NTC), also known as Fort
Irwin, about 40 miles north of Twentynine Palms.
The lawmakers, both members of the appropriations
committees, put language in the fiscal 2000 Interior
Department funding bill that allowed the Army to add
174,461 acres of BLM land to Fort Irwin, while also protecting 487,000 acres of sensitive desert area nearby.
The NTC expansion required the relocation of thousands of desert tortoises from the new training area into
other acceptable habitats. A lawsuit by conservationists to
stop the relocation was rejected in a federal court last year
and the expansion is proceeding, an NTC spokesman said.
The Marines have examined the Army’s experience
for guidance in their expansion efforts.
Feinstein and Lewis have no immediate plans to
introduce legislation to facilitate the Marines’ proposed
expansion. But that is not necessary during the EIS
process, said John Daly, a Marine Corps civilian working on the expansion program.
“At this time, the Marine Corps is not seeking any
authorization or appropriations for this project
because we are still several years away from having
completed all required studies and being in a position
to seek to purchase the land,” Daly said.
Under the project timeline, the draft EIS would
be completed and opened for public comment next
summer. A final EIS then will be written and, after
review, the Navy Department is expected to publish
a record of decision late in fiscal 2011. If that decision
is to expand, congressional action then would be
required to authorize the land transfer, and possibly
the off-road compromise, and appropriate the necessary funds.
The Federal Aviation Administration also would start
the process to establish any “Special Use Airspace”
required for the expanded training area. ■
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