By LEE JUILLERAT H&N Regional Editor | Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 2:45 am
A 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 Fence8/6/2014 Lawsuit aims to halt airport fencing 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.
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