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(Japanese) Lawsuit aims to halt (Tulelake) airport (safety) fencing. Historical value of site should be considered, group claimsA lawsuit that would prevent Modoc County and the city of Tulelake from fencing the Tulelake Airport was filed last week by the Tule Lake Committee.
The group, which includes Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II and their families, believes a proposed fence around the airport would make it difficult to appreciate the size of the former camp near present-day Newell. A small portion of the former center is managed by the National Park Service as part of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.In the suit, filed in Modoc County Superior Court, the Tule Lake Committee seeks to stop Modoc County and Tulelake from leasing and fencing the airport before conducting a public environmental review process. According to the suit, California state law requires the study and mitigation of impacts to the historic property on which the airport sits, including consideration of alternatives to the proposed fence. The airport occupies the middle of the Tule Lake Detention Center, where more than 18,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. Tule Lake became the nation’s only segregation center.
“We had no choice but to file a lawsuit to stop the destruction of the Tule Lake site,” said Hiroshi Shimizu, who chairs the Tule Lake Committee.He said the committee is “devoted to educating the public, to remembering and preserving Tule Lake’s history, and to preventing similar injustices in the future.”
“We’re sensitive and we understand the situation,” Steve Jacques, Modoc County deputy road commissioner, said of plans to build a fence. “At the end of the day it’s an airport.”Jacques said the planned new fence would replace an existing barbed wire fence. The purpose of the fence, he explained, is to prevent wildlife from going onto the airport runway. Although not required, he said fences to protect airport runways, are recommended and “make sense … It’s something we’ve proposed for a long time.”
The airport is used by Macy’s Flying Service and private individuals. After World War II, the airport runway was constructed from Tule Lake’s main firebreak, and ownership of the land was transferred to the city of Tulelake. The city entered into a 40-year lease agreement in 1974. Jacques said a new 30-year agreement was recently approved.Jacques said Modoc County has offered guided tours, but said those proposals have been rejected.
“Our goal is not to deny access to anyone, and we’re willing to try to work with them,” he said, referring to the Tule Lake Committee.Jacques declined to comment on the lawsuit.
During World War II, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of them U.S. citizens, were forced to leave their West Coast homes and report to 10 detention centers, including Tule Lake. It opened in May 1942, became the nation’s only segregation center in 1943, and closed in March 1946.Last year the committee obtained more than 25,000 signatures after it circulated an online petition to stop the fence construction.
“Despite our objections, the county is moving ahead on plans to build an 8-foot high, 3-mile-long fence on the site of the former Tule Lake concentration camp,” said Shimizu, who was a young boy at Tule Lake during World War II. “This massive fence would desecrate a unique civil rights historic site and close off access to descendants and anybody wishing to remember Tule Lake.”In agreeing to extending the county’s lease of the Tulelake Airport, the committee claims Modoc County and the city of Tulelake failed to conduct an environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act, according to Susan Brandt-Hawley, who specializes in California historic preservation law and is the attorney for the Tule Lake Committee.
Comments sought on historic jail restorationPublic comments on restoring the Tule Lake Segregation Center jail are wanted by the National Park Service.
“The jail is infamous to the Tule Lake and Japanese American incarceration story because of the injustice it represents,” said Mike Reynolds, superintendent of Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.He said the jail is unique to the history of World War II segregation centers because Tule Lake was the only of 10 War Relocation Authority camps to become a maximum security facility. Tule Lake had three separate detention facilities, including the jail, which was used from late 1944 until the center closed in March 1946. The concrete jail was used to detain people, including dissident leaders, before moving them to Department of Justice camps.
The vacated building deteriorated as a result of aging and weathering until the California Department of Transportation, which previously owned the building, constructed a shelter. Cal-Trans transferred the jail to the NPS when the Tule Lake Unit was created in 2008.Reynolds said the nonprofit Tule Lake Committee has assisted with creating the new national park unit. Last year the committee received a $192,467 grant from the NPS’s Japanese American Confinement Sites program for the second of three phases of restoration. The committee contracted with the Architectural Resources Group to create schematic design alternatives. Earlier this year, the committee, which needs to raise one-third of the grant amount in matching funds, and NPS began work on the project.
Tulelake Basin farmer Bill Osborne donated jail bars and cots to the NPS in 2012, which Reynolds said will be “critical to this restoration.” The bars were removed after the center closed and were protected by the Osborne family.During a scoping phase for the jail restoration project, Reynolds said public comments that reflect perspectives are wanted. Online comment forms are available at parkplanning.nps.gov. tule. Comments also may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Hanako Wakatsuki, P.O. Box 1240, Tulelake, CA. Comments are wanted this week.
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