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FAA supports Tulelake airport sale as settlement hearing looms

by Kurt Liedtke, Herald and News 9/16/18

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has no objections to the sale of lands occupying the Tulelake Airport site to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, according to an FAA letter, while a lawsuit regarding its purchase moves towards a settlement hearing.

The letter, dated Aug. 23, was sent by Brian Armstrong, FAA manager of airport safety and standards branch for the western-pacific region, to Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger and Patrick Bergin, legal representative for the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.

Armstrong indicated that an FAA review of the proposed purchase agreement by the Modoc Tribe for the lands, which includes portions of where the Tule Lake Segregation Camp once stood during World War II housing as many as 18,000 Japanese-Americans, did not violate the original 1952 land grant patent and therefore the FAA had no objections.

The original land grant patent, signed in agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, transferred 358-acres of airport property from federal government to city ownership under the requirement that the land would be utilized under its current use — that of a public airport.

Since 1974, the City of Tulelake has leased the airport grounds to Modoc County, under terms slated to continue through Sept. 30, 2044.

Armstrong’s letter indicates that after review the sale would receive the FAA’s approval as long as the county continued to operate the airport for the duration of the lease, and act as sponsor for any past and future federal grants related to the facilities. It includes the expectation that the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma as new owners of the land should assume responsibility for the airport’s operations and would continue in that role should the county lease be terminated. If those obligations are not met, the lands could be reclaimed as federal ownership under the land patent.

A purchase offer by the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma of $17,500 was accepted by the City of Tulelake in July, the cost equivalent to covering Tulelake’s legal fees associated with the sale.

The Tule Lake Committee (TLC), a group comprised of survivors and supporters from the interned Japanese-Americans held at the site, filed a lawsuit in August after their offer of $40,000 and to drop all legal claims against the City of Tulelake was not accepted over the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma’s offer. The Tule Lake Committee then filed a temporary restraining order to prevent the sale, which was denied without prejudice by Judge Kimberly Mueller.

The purchase of the lands remains in escrow, according to the City of Tulelake’s and Modoc Tribe’s legal representatives at a recent scheduled pre-trial conference. At that hearing Judge Mueller asked that all sides work out concerns through court-supervised settlement discussions after noting “multiple competing equities” seeking purchase of the land. Escrow for the Tribe of Oklahoma’s purchase was originally expected to be completed by the end of August.

The settlement hearing in the case of Tule Lake Committee v. City of Tulelake is now scheduled for Sept. 27 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Cota of the Eastern District of California. In a settlement hearing the judge is present to assist parties in the case to seek a resolution outside of court.



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