Machine gun fire may lead to crackdown at Covert Canyon - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Machine gun fire may lead to crackdown at Covert Canyon

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ALPINE, Calif. (CBS 8) -- Home video showing machine gun fire at a paramilitary training camp southeast of Alpine has San Diego County Code Enforcement officials concerned about public safety.

The camp is called Covert Canyon and this latest video recorded by neighbors may lead to a crack down on military training operations.

The video shows uniformed personnel shooting machine guns at the privately-owned facility near Japatul Valley Rd.

"There are explosions going on, continuous rapid fire," said neighbor Robin Williams.

Robin and her husband Clark built their retirement home on the neighboring property years before Marc Halcon moved in and started operating Covert Canyon.

In 2007, the county issued a cease and desist order banning all commercial, paramilitary training on the site.

"He has no legal permit," Robin Williams said. "He has no legal reason to be conducting a commercial enterprise on that property."

For the past four years, Halcon has attempted to obtain the required county permits, including a Major Use Permit, to legally operate Covert Canyon as a commercial facility but he was denied because of fire safety requirements.

"If they start a fire, which is common at paramilitary facilities, there's no fire prevention out there," Robin Williams said.

Indeed, a brush fire broke out Thursday at a different paramilitary training camp east of Warner Springs, called Eagle Rock Training Center.

The military trains at Eagle Rock legally because that facility is operated under contract on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, which is exempt from county zoning ordinances.

Covert Canyon is a different story.

Video recorded at Covert Canyon over the past few years shows helicopters landing and taking off, busloads of people parking at a nearby chicken ranch, and ongoing training exercises including long-distance sniper shooting and the most recent automatic weapon fire.

"The logo on the truck and the license plate said Department of Homeland Security," Robin Williams recalled from a training gathering at the facility April 28.

Covert Canyon owner Marc Halcon declined to be interviewed on camera but told News 8 he does have a valid machine gun license.

In an interview last year, Halcon said county zoning rules allow him to shoot with friends for recreational purposes.

"It's private shooting on private property," Halcon said in 2010. "They're coming up there on their days off to practice their skills. I don't charge for it and it's perfectly justified."

After viewing the latest machine gun video, San Diego County officials responded with the following statement to News 8:

"Our preliminary review of this video gives us concern that this incident is a Zoning Ordinance Violation. It appears to be paramilitary training, which would necessitate a Major Use Permit.

While recreational firearm use by a property owner is allowed in this zone, the use of this property as a public training or shooting facility requires a number of land use permits in order to assure that public health and safety issues are addressed.

In 2007 County staff investigated this property for possible zoning violations. The property owner was instructed at that time to cease and desist from any public training or shooting until the necessary permits were obtained.

We are investigating this incident further and will take appropriate action (including possible fines) should we verify that this is a violation."

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson would not confirm whether agents train at Covert Canyon.  She did not respond to questions regarding the use of a non-permitted training facility by government agents.

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