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Compromise in decade-old dispute between Marines, off-roaders in Southern California desert

The Marine Corps and off-road vehicle enthusiasts will share a rugged patch of desert near the military base at Twentynine Palms under a compromise brokered by Congress.

Neither side got all it wanted in the nearly decade-long dispute over 200,000 acres of Johnson Valley adjacent to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the Mojave Desert, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday (http://lat.ms/QrNzMt ).

As included in the 2014 defense bill signed by President Obama, about 43,000 acres of Johnson Valley will be for recreational use only, while another 79,000 acres will be for the Marine Corps. And 53,000 acres will be shared between the off-roaders and the Marines.

"We would have preferred something different. But this is probably the best we can get," said Steve Egbert, president of the 6,000-member California Association of Four-Wheel Drive Clubs, one of several off-road organizations involved in the issue.

The annual King of the Hammers off-road competition, billed as the toughest desert race in the nation, drawing more than 20,000 spectators and participants, will continue, although its course will have to be redrawn slightly, officials said.

Maj. Gen. David Berger, commanding general of the base at Twentynine Palms, told the newspaper that with the additional training area Marines will "learn to fight the way (they're) actually going to fight in a conflict, at that size level."

The Johnson Valley plan allows the Marines to use the shared area for two 30-day stretches a year for combat training. Just when those 30-day stretches will be has yet to be decided, Bureau of Land Management officials said.

The area set aside exclusively for the public will be known as the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and state Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, a retired Marine colonel, worked to bring the two sides together.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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