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Blake Follis
Tulelake council approves airport land sale to Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma

< Oklahoma Tribe attorney general Blake Follis

TULELAKE — The sale of land under the Tulelake Airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma was unanimously approved by the Tulelake City Council late Tuesday afternoon.

"I'd like to welcome the Modocs from Oklahoma," councilman Richard Marcillac said to the Modoc delegation after the vote.

The council never publicly discussed purchase offers from Modoc County and the Tule Lake Committee. Modoc County, which owns the airport and has a strong financial interest is seeing it used as an airport, offered to equal the Modoc bid of $17,500.


The Tule Lake Committee, a non-profit group that includes Japanese-Americans incarcerated at the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II and their families, had offered $40,000.

At a special meeting held before the regular meeting, the council met for a half-hour in a closed executive session to confer with attorney Michael Colantuono about the three offers. The offers from Modoc County and the Tule Lake Committee came after the council approved the first reading of the ordinance agreeing to sell the land to the Modoc Tribe in early July.

In remarks before public comments were taken, Colantuono said the sale price was not an issue because of stipulations requiring the city to return any profits to the airport, not to the city's general fund. He said the $17,500 basically covers his legal costs. It was explained the city has never received any revenues from the airport, but has faced potential liability issues.

Colantuono also noted for the sale to be completed, the Modocs must receive approval for the purchase from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airport is located on a portion of the former Tule Lake Segregation Center and was given to the city with a requirement it be used as an airport or, if not, be returned to the federal government.

Lawsuit fatigue plays a role

Along with supporting the Modoc purchase, comments by Tulelake Basin residents during the public hearing indicated strong resentment against the Tule Lake Committee and Klamath Tribes for ongoing lawsuits.

The Tule Lake Committee has sued the City of Tulelake and Modoc County over plans to build a fence around the airport. The Klamath Tribes have filed court actions that, if successful, could shut off water deliveries to Tulelake and Klamath Basin irrigators.

John Prosser, a Tulelake Basin alfalfa and beer barley grower, received applause when he said, "I would like to welcome the Oklahoma tribe back to this basin" and expressed his belief the Modoc Tribe will bring "positive ideas" that will boost the region's economy."

"They've come here not to sue, not to threaten us ... they've come to become part of the community," said Nick Macy, owner of Macy's Flying Service, which has a long-term lease from Modoc County to operate a crop dusting business from the airport. Macy's seasonally employs 35 to 40 people, making it the area's largest, single employer.

Rudy Hiley, while never mentioning any specifics, referred to the lawsuits, saying, "Our community's been at war ... and we're sick and tired of it."

Ben Duval, president of the Modoc County Farm Bureau, said the group supported the sale to the Modoc Tribe because, "We feel it's the best way to keep the airport open."

Supporting aviation

During the comment period, Blake Follis, attorney general for the Modocs and the grandson of longtime Chief Bill Follis, said the tribe "intends to keep and operate this as a public airport with the hope of fostering economic development. When later asked what businesses the tribe might try to lure to the airport, Follis responded, "Anything to support aviation."

Patrick Bergin, an attorney working for the Modocs, said his clients want to identify ways to increase use. He was asked why the Oklahoma-based tribe, which has been buying Tulelake Basin property and is reportedly negotiating the purchase of the former Newell School, is involved in California.

"The Tribe can conduct business wherever it chooses," Bergin said. "The Tribe is returning home and part of that involves buying land."

Standing with agriculture


Responding to a question on whether the Modoc Tribe supports the Klamath Tribes stance on water issues, Bergin noted the Modocs joined several other Tulelake and Klamath Basin government agencies and groups in opposing the Klamath Tribes litigation.

"The Modoc Tribe," he said, "is standing with the county (Klamath, Siskiyou and Modoc counties) and its position with agriculture."

During the comment period, Taylor Tupper, a Klamath Tribes member, listed her many Modoc descendants, a reference to previous claims by the Oklahoma group that it represents Modoc Indians killed and removed from the Klamath Basin after the 1872-73 Modoc War.

She expressed concerns about a possible "breakdown in communications" and a "lack of due process" by the city in discussing the sale with the Modoc Tribe and not with the Klamath Tribes.

Another Klamath, Norma Cummings, said when the Modoc Tribe was created there was no mention of the Tribe having land or connections in the Tulelake and Klamath Basins.

Another Klamath, Clay Dumont, offered, "Greeting relatives" to the Oklahoma group, but requested, "I'd like to urge you to work with the Klamath Tribes."

Incarceration history

Barbara Takei, representing the Tule Lake Committee, referred to the history of incarcerating Japanese-Americans at Tule Lake, noting President Ronald Reagan apologized for that action in 1988.

She said the Committee hopes the Tule Lake Unit, which is part of the larger World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, will serve as a unifying site for several groups, noting, "The histories of Native Americans who resisted removal programs that accommodated white settlers, and the settlers and homesteaders who benefited from government programs — are all part of Tule Lake’s history."

Farmers, residents respond to Tulelake council decision

Some were delighted, some were disappointed.

Following Tuesday's Tulelake City Council meeting, where the council unanimously agreed to sell land under the Tulelake Airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, several Tulelake Basin farmers and residents were obviously pleased.

Over the past several months, many have met with tribal leaders and supported the tribe's efforts to purchase the land.

"It's not about money, it's about the future of our community," Nick Macy, owner of Macy's Flying Service, which has a long-term lease to operate the airport, said after the meeting.

"The community is looking forward to keeping our community whole. Any job is better than no job in our community."

The flying service seasonally employs between 35 and 40 people.

Macy said he believes Modoc Tribe leaders are business-oriented and will seek ways to bolster the region's economy.

He said discussions with tribal leaders about their involvement with a payday loan scandal, which resulted in prison terms for two people who devised the scheme and a settlement that required the Modocs to pay a $2 million fine, calmed concerns about tribal business dealings.

"I think we already have a good relationship with the Tribe," Macy said.

Business at the forefront

Echoing those sentiments was John Prosser, who raises barley and brew barley.

"I think it's the best thing that's happened to this community in 66 years," Prosser said after the meeting. "I'm getting tired of being sued every time we turn around," he said, referring to lawsuits by the Tule Lake Committee opposing plans to build a fence around the airport and the litigation by the Klamath Tribes that if successful would halt water deliveries to irrigators.

"I'm a farmer. I rely on that airport. These are business people," he said, referring to Modoc tribal leaders.

"It's a big deal to welcome these guy back after 145 years," Prosser added, referring to Modocs who were sent to what is now Oklahoma following the 1872-73 Modoc War. Although many Modocs later returned to the Klamath Basin, others remained in Oklahoma and eventually formed the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.

Warm welcome

Blake Follis, the Modoc Tribe's attorney general, declined comment after the meeting. He has not replied to telephone calls or emails since a brief interview in May 2017. He and other tribal members, including Chief Bill Follis, Blake's grandfather, were warmly greeted by Tulelake Basin farmers and others after the council decision.

After the meeting, Chester Robertson, Modoc County administrative officer, said the county hopes to work with the Modoc Tribe. After learning about the Tribe's offer to purchase the land under the airport, which is owned by Modoc County, he said county commissioners offered to buy the land for the same price the Tribe offered, $17,500.

Robertson expressed concerns because the county could be liable for millions of dollars if the airport does not continue to be used as an airport, noting, "We believe we have a continued interest to operate the airport. We will need them (the Modoc Tribe) to work closely with us."

Although primarily used for Macy's Flying Service, Robertson said the airport serves other purposes. In case of, for example, a major traffic accident, injured people can be flown to distant medical facilities. In case of forest fires, the airport can serve as a command base for fire response crews.

Looking at options

"Of course we're disappointed," said Barbara Takei, representing the Tule Lake Committee, a group that includes Japanese Americans who were held in the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II, of the council decision. "We're exploring our options."

When asked if the council discussed the Committee's offer to buy the rights to land under the airport for $40,000, a higher offer than the Modoc Tribe's $17,500 offer, Takei said, "We don't know if it was considered."

While he couldn't discuss specifics, Mayor Hank Ebinger said the offer from the Tule Lake Committee and the verbal offer from Modoc County were thoroughly discussed during the executive session. "It was discussed fairly, honestly and sincerely," he said after the meeting.

Ebinger said the Committee offered to withdraw its lawsuit over the proposed fence if their bid was accepted, but said he believes the Modoc Tribe proposal was the best for the city because of the tribe's interest in stimulating the city and region's economy.

"They're going to bring business into here and we need that. This was not some knee-jerk reaction, this was not some protest against any group," Ebinger said, noting the sale has been under consideration for several months.

Speaking for himself he added, "We thought the best hope for our community was to go with the Modoc offer ... they're business-oriented."

Ebinger said he and council members previously discussed the Modoc Tribe's involvement in the payday loan scandal and concluded, "That was a completely separate incident and they paid their penalty. I believe they've learned from their mistakes ... I think they just want to be good neighbors."


Two meetings in one

The Tulelake City Council held two council meetings Tuesday. The council held a special meeting 4:15 p.m. at the Tulelake City Hall. During most of the meeting the council met in a half-hour long closed executive session to discuss offers to buy the city-owned land under the Tulelake Airport.

Because of a large turnout for the regular council meeting at 5:30 p.m., the session was moved to the Tulelake Multi County Fire Department, where engines were removed from a large garage and chairs were set up to accommodate about 70 people.



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