Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Marine Corps' proposal to expand the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California:
"The training of the U.S. Marine Corps is vital to the safety of the American people, and the exercises taking place on the Twentynine Palms base enable our Marine forces to defend our nation and its allies throughout the world. However, I can't support the expansion plan offered by the Marine Corps, which would hand them ownership of Johnson Valley. Marine Corps ownership would prevent many public-space activities, including big public off-highway events like King of the Hammers, from taking place. Offroaders and other users of Johnson Valley make huge contributions to the economic well-being of the Morongo Valley, and losing that revenue during slow economic times would be devastating.
"Protecting the Marine Corps' budget is extremely important to me, and I believe the funds set aside for purchasing this land for the Marine Corps could be put to better use.
"Instead, I'm authoring a plan that would create the Johnson Valley National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area and keep the land in the hands of the Bureau of Land Management. Marine training could still take place at specific times, but only with agreement by the Bureau of Land Management and only at times that would not interfere with the many off-highway motor vehicle events in the area."
Rep. Cook's proposal would withdraw the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area for the purposes of recreation and military use and designate it as the Johnson Valley National OHV Recreational Area. The withdrawn area would be designated specifically for recreational uses, including but not limited to off-highway vehicle use, camping, and hiking. U.S. Marine Corps activities would be permitted to take place twice annually and could not include any explosives that could be left behind without detonating.
Cook continued, "For the sake of public safety, it's essential to set a standard for the type of ordnance used in Johnson Valley. You have offroaders and hikers moving through there constantly. Nothing would be worse than a family coming across unexploded ordnance and having a deadly incident occur. That's why my proposal limits military use to smaller arms."
Cook's proposal is scheduled to be presented next Friday, April 26, in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.
A member of the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees, Cook served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.