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Judge says no jurisdiction for suit over Tulelake Airport sale

  • Herald and News 10/6/2020

A case claiming the city of Tulelake, Federal Aviation Administration and Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma/Modoc Nation acted improperly in selling the land under the Tulelake Airport to the Modoc Tribe has been dismissed.

The Tule Lake Committee, a group of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II and their descendants, contested the legality of the sale of the airport.

After hearing arguments, U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb of the Eastern District of California issued an order September 25, dismissing the Tule Lake Committee’s case. Because of COVID-19 protocols, the case was heard September 21 via Zoom.

In the case filed earlier this year, the Tule Lake Committee disputed the legality of Tulelake airfield sale, which they asserted was “given away” for $17,500 to the Oklahoma-based tribe by Tulelake city council during a special meeting in 2018. The committee also alleged the FAA failed to address National Historic Preservation Act obligations for the historically significant incarceration camp site. The airport is located on land that was a large portion of the World War II incarceration camp.

The Tulelake city council unanimously approved the sale without discussion at a special meeting even though Modoc County, which owns the land where the airport is located, also offered $17,500 and the Tule Lake Committee offered $40,000.

The committee alleged that based on the 1951 federal land patent that gave the former Tule Lake Segregation Center property to the city, it lacked authority to transfer the land to a tribe based in Oklahoma. The lawsuit also alleged Tulelake failed to observe California’s open meeting laws when it approved the sale the 359-acre airfield to the Modoc Nation for a price that only covered the city’s legal fees.

In addition, the committee also alleged the FAA approved the airfield “giveaway” without implementing mandatory historic and environmental administrative review.

The judge’s order, however, ruled the FAA’s approval was not “a ‘final’ agency action” and dismissed the case for “lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” The FAA was granted dismissal, as was the city and the Modoc Nation.

“We believe there are issues that deserve additional judicial review, and we are exploring our options,” said Yoshinori Himel, one of the committee’s three attorneys. Barbara Takei, the committee’s chief financial officer, said lawyers are considering the legal options, including a possible appeal.



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