WARNER SPRINGS, Calif. (CBS 8) - We are getting our first look inside a remote, military training center near Warner Springs. The operator of Eagle Rock Training Center offered News 8 and other media outlets a tour of the facility Wednesday.
In recent weeks, neighbors have expressed concerns over fire safety, traffic on the local roadways, and an air of secrecy by the operators of the training center on the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.
On Wednesday morning, Eagle Rock Chief Operating Officer Sean Roach climbed behind the wheel of a rented van and transported print and broadcast media about 11 miles into the reservation. Upon arrival, dozens of law enforcement personnel were being briefed by representatives of tactical and weapons gear manufacturers.
Before long, the sound of submachine gun, rifle and pistol fire rocked the two outdoor shooting ranges and sniper range at the isolated location.
"Cops like to see how their equipment is going to function at this far distance," said one Carlsbad Police officer who asked that his name not be used.
Officers participating in the product demonstration event said that privately-run facilities like Eagle Rock are badly needed.
"It's kind of like taking a football team and never letting them practice and expecting them to win the Super Bowl. They gotta have a place to train," said Sgt. Michael Lydon with the Butte County Sheriff's Department.
Eagle Rock offers long range shooting ranges, a sniper shooting mountain, and tactical training areas on about 5,000 acres of land. The entire Los Coyotes reservation is home to about 30 residents on about 25,000 acres total, according to Roach.
In one area, the wreckage of two Vietnam-era helicopters provides a perfect backdrop for military Special Operations training.
Next month, Roach expects to complete work on two mock villages used for cultural training of troops deploying to Afghanistan. The villages are made out of several steel cargo containers lined up and stacked into a tactical training site.
"We need these eventually to look like they are stucco or mud, just like you would find in the Middle East," Roach said while pointing to a cargo container.
Roach said Eagle Rock is getting ready to bid on a multi-million dollar government contract to expand its cultural training operations.
One of the contractors working on the Eagle Rock site is El Cajon based Lexicon Consulting, which specializes in language and cultural training in military scenarios.
Hollywood film crews have used Eagle Rock for on-location shooting, and planning is in the works to host paint ball tournaments, Roach said.
Roach said he has a lease to operate Eagle Rock on the Los Coyotes reservation, where county and state permits are not required. He would not discuss the terms of the lease or the number of individuals involved in his venture, Eagle Rock Training Center LLC.
"All the stuff we're doing and building; we're working with the tribe," Roach said. "We're employing tribal members in everything we do."
Roach estimated his investment in Eagle Rock eventually will approach $3.2 million, not including the lease.
One of the major concerns of off-reservation neighbors is fire danger.
"Fire knows no boundaries," said Kathryn Fletcher, president of the neighboring Los Tules Property Owners Association, which includes about 70 properties.
"It doesn't take much to start a fire in the back country when it's dry and there's a Santa Ana wind condition," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said she was told by a local fire chief that several brush fires have broken out on the Eagle Rock site.
Roach said a reservation fire truck and crew supervises all training operations.
"I don't think one brush firing truck is going to make a whole lot of difference," Fletcher said.
The most recent brush fire was sparked earlier this month when troops mistakenly started shooting tracer ammunition on the side of a mountain, Roach said.
"It was an accident. It was a miscommunication on our part. We realized we needed to have someone oversee stuff instead of letting them do what they did," Roach said. "We do live fire training only in areas with dirt or sand and anytime we go into an area for live fire we've got protocols."
Roach said he has reached out to several members of the Los Tules Property Owners Association, including one board member elected to represent the association in communications with Eagle Rock.
Fletcher, the board president, said she would like to tour Eagle Rock personally.
"We'd like to see for ourselves what the facility is. We'd like to see what fire clearing has been done," Fletcher said.
Roach said no public tours are planned.
"We don't want to open up a public day," he said. "A lot of what we're doing here is confidential training."
Fletcher said she's willing to wait as long as it takes.
"We're reasonable people. We're a group of people who have long term interests in this," she said. "We'll be here not just for five years; most of us plan to be here for the rest of our lives."