By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
Currently, the Tule Lake Committee (TLC) and various stakeholders are in discussions as to how to resolve the issue of the local municipal airport proposing an expansion in the middle of the former Tule Lake Segregation Center.
The various stakeholders include, among others, the TLC, the Federal Aviation Administration, Modoc County, the owners of the airport, and the various businesses that rely upon the airport, such as the farmers, fertilizer companies and manufacturers of chemicals used in crop dusting.
The airport, used mainly by crop dusting airplanes for local farmers, sits on about two-thirds of the former Tule Lake camp. A past camp firebreak that ran through the middle of Tule Lake has been converted into the airport runway.
Three years ago, the TLC gathered hundreds of signatures and letters to temporarily halt construction of a proposed three-mile-long airport fence that would have run through the center of the former camp site.
Barbara Takei, TLC chief financial officer, noted that the involvement of Janet Eidsness was also instrumental in temporarily halting the fence construction.
“Without her help, we would have an eight-foot-high, three-mile-long fence keeping us out of the Tule Lake site,” said Takei. “She stepped forward to help the Tule Lake Committee and did an environmental critique of the environmental study done by the county. Her work criticizing the county’s report led to state officials re-evaluating it.”
According to Eidsness, she received a phone call from Takei, seeking her help. Eidsness was well-known for her work with various California tribes over preservation issues.
Eidsness was also familiar with the Tule Lake camp site since she had worked as an archeologist for the National Park Service at the Lava Beds National Monument during the late 1980s into the early 1990s.
When Takei explained to Eidsness about the TLC’s effort to stop the proposed airport fence, she asked to read the various reports done by the local government.
“I reviewed the archeologist’s report and found it was totally inadequate,” said Eidsness. “First, he said there was nothing left, that there was nothing on the ground, so the first thing I did was use GoogleEarth (the application that allows viewers to see satellite images of the Earth’s surface) and flew over Newell, California and the airport. Well, I said, gee, underlining the airport runway was one of the main (Tule Lake) firebreaks.”
Eidsness then discussed with the TLC about Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the importance of a Traditional Cultural Property.
“Section 106 is one of the real important, key federal laws that says if you have an important historical site, that you have to fairly consider the impact of your project,” said Eidsness.
Since then, Dr. Thomas King, who, along with Patricia Parker, wrote the “Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties” for the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, has also taken an interest in the Tule Lake issue.
King and Eidsness spoke at a workshop at the pilgrimage, updating the attendees as to the status of the Tule Lake site and efforts to preserve the area.
Unlike the Manzanar site, which was mostly owned by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water after the war, the Tule Lake site has numerous property owners.
According to Tule Lake/Lava Beds Superintendent Larry Whalen, “The Park Service manages 37 acres (of the former camp site). In addition, there is Camp Tulelake, as well as the Peninsula (Castle Rock) site. All of that adds to about 1,800 acres. Then there’s about 900 acres of the camp that is in other public, private ownerships, and then there’s the airport. Modoc County also has several pieces of property, as well as managing the road, so at this point, the important thing is to put together partnerships so that we can interpret the entire camp, not just the 37 acres.”
Whalen said the NPS has been closely involved in the various meetings among stakeholders.
“There are currently meetings to negotiate and to get each side to understand what the other side wants, needs, desires,” said Whalen. “The Park Service is a part of that process, and part of the process is to tell the group that this is what we want. We want to interpret that site, to tell the story that includes all the stakeholders, including Tule Lake, the farm growers cooperatives, the airport owners, property owners.”
The issue, however, has created divisions among the stakeholders.
One of the more visible consequences of this rift was the absence during the pilgrimage of the traditional barbecue lunch hosted by the local volunteer fire department.
Additionally, David Misso, a lone protester, stood silently with a placard during the inter-faith ceremony by the jail.
“I’ve lived here 42 years,” said Misso. “I’ve attended every one of these events but two. I set up the tents two years ago and two years before that. I’ve been instrumental in making this happen. And the Tule Lake Committee kind of jolted me by filing a lawsuit to close our airport, to regain the acreage that was there during the internment and imprisonment. If that happens, it will put 900 family farms out of business. It will close my town of Tulelake.”
While Misso has attended mediation meetings, he felt those who oppose the airport expansion do not understand the issue since they are outsiders.
“The stakeholders should be better represented by the people who live where the event is, rather than from other areas,” said Misso. “Has rural America ever gone to you and told you to close LAX because it’s a cesspool of dirtiness and of pollution? Has any rural American ever tried to shut down an urban area? You can get petitions signed by millions of people…They’re from Germany, France — they don’t know this area.
“I live less than a mile from here, and I’m not allowed to climb that (Castle Rock because it is now a wildlife preserve), but when we moved here, we could go up there and sled. We’re denied access to our own land. How can that be just?”
During a panel discussion that was open to the local community, actor/activist George Takei referred to the tension caused by the airport expansion issue.
“I understand there’s some division here between the local people and the Japanese Americans because of the internment camp story,” said Takei. “I want you all to understand that what happened to us was an American story. We are American citizens, who happen to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor.
“We had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. We are Americans of Japanese ancestry, and yet it was three things — war hysteria, race prejudice and reckless, irresponsible political leadership that fanned the flames of fear and ignorance.”
Amidst the controversy, Barbara Takei was awarded the prestigious National Park Conservation Association’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Award during the pilgrimage.
Ron Sundergill, senior director of the NPCA’s Pacific Region Office, presented the award, which is given to those who go to great lengths to advocate for and to fight for the protection of the national parks.
Sundergill congratulated Takei and the TLC for organizing a campaign to have Tule Lake designated as a national monument and then ensuring that the site had funds and resources. He noted that Takei and the TLC raised more than $800,000 in both actual dollars and in in-kind donations that were matched by grants from the federal government.
Referring to the airport fence issue, Sundergill said, “Over the past two years, Barbara has led the effort to stop a large and intrusive fence from being erected for an airport on part of the Segregation Center property that would complicate visitor access to the site and would prevent people from visually understanding the expansive footprint of the camp.”
Sundergill concluded, “Without Barbara’s long-standing and steadfast leadership, the Tule Lake confinement site would probably not be a protected unit of the National Park system today, so she richly deserves this national recognition.”
Takei thanked the NPCA and Sundergill, whom she described as “a wonderful friend and supporter of the Tule Lake Committee and also the Tule Lake site.”
As is was customary with Takei, who always saw the larger picture, she said, “I also want to say that I personally feel thankful, but am also profoundly grateful for this award, not so much for myself but because it elevates Tule Lake. The recognition by the NPCA really tells us that Tule Lake is really a significant civil rights site and that it is important to preserve it.”
Takei also received commendations from Reps. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento).
The TLC is starting the next phase of the jail restoration fundraising campaign. To donate, write checks to the Tule Lake Committee, Inc., and mail to PO Box 170141, San Francisco, CA 94117 or donate via Paypal at www.tulelake.org. The TLC tax ID# is 94-2699521.
How You Can Help
The Tule Lake Committee would appreciate assistance on the airport issue. The public is invited to:
1) Share about the issue to a wider audience by discussing it, writing about it, getting other organizations involved;
2) Getting the support of your elected official since dealing with an airport involves congressional action;
3) Make a monetary donation to cover expenses not covered by pro bono legal help. Donations can be made online at www.tulelake.org or send a check, made payable to the Tule Lake Committee, to: PO Box 170141 San Francisco, CA 94117
Updates on the airport issue will be posted on the TLC Facebook page “Stop the Fence at Tule Lake.”