Tule Lake Committee Re-files Lawsuit

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Environmental and historic resources review of camp site sought.

The outlines of the Tule Lake National Monument and of the Tulelake Municipal Airport are superimposed on a wartime photo of the Tule Lake Segregation Center.

The Tule Lake Committee (TLC) filed a second lawsuit against Modoc County on March 30, under a state environmental law protecting historic places, to protect the site of the World War II Tule Lake concentration camp.

The camp site needs protection from an airport whose planned expansion would cause irreparable damage to this historic site, according to the TLC.

Tule Lake is unique as the only War Relocation Authority concentration camp that was converted into a maximum-security segregation center. The government used this camp to imprison more than 12,000 Japanese Americans who protested the injustice of their mass incarceration.

The TLC previously sued in July 2014 to compel Modoc County to review the World War II resources, both surface and sub-surface, that remain within the Tulelake airport site.

The legal action asks the Superior Court to compel the county to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This state law protects environmental resources, including historic places, from damage by governments before the extent of the damage is studied and documented.

The goal of the court action is to ensure that the county studies and documents, in advance, the airport’s impacts on the historic fabric of this nationally significant place.

BACKGROUND

The City of Tulelake in Siskiyou County owns the airport land and leases it to Modoc County to operate the airport. The lease was due to expire in October 2014. In January 2014 the Modoc County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the lease by 30 years. The TLC asked Modoc County to survey the Tulelake airport property for historical impacts first, before extending the lease. The County ignored the TLC’s request and approved the extension.

In July 2014, the TLC’s attorney, Susan Brandt Hawley, a respected expert on CEQA and historic preservation, filed a court petition seeking Modoc County’s compliance with the mandates of CEQA. The lawsuit was successful as the county rescinded the 30-year lease extension. The county then approved a new 30-year lease extension without environmental documentation required by CEQA.

For the past 18 months, multiple government and community stakeholders have discussed how to reconcile the airport’s plans with its location on an irreplaceable historic civil rights site. During these stakeholder discussions, managed by the Udall Foundation, the parties agreed to a tolling agreement to suspend the legal action against the 30-year airport lease extension. The stakeholder discussions ended without resolution, and the tolling agreement ended March 30, 2017.

This second petition, filed that same day, alleges that “approval of a long-term lease extension is a project subject to CEQA” and that it “may result in significant impacts to historic resources of national importance and to immediate surroundings such that the significance of such resources would be materially impaired.” It also requests a restraining order to prevent any actions that would further construction projects at the Tulelake Airport while the petition is pending.

The Tule Lake Committee is dedicated to educating the public, to remembering and preserving Tule Lake’s history, and to preventing such injustices in the future. For more information, visit www.tulelake.org. The mailing address is P.O. Box 170141, San Francisco, CA 94117.

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