By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has contacted the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) regarding the sale of the Tule Lake Municipal Airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, according to documents available to the public.
Neither the Tule Lake Committee (TLC), the City of Tulelake or the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma are able to currently make public comments on the TMA sale after the U.S. District Court judge in November sealed the case information and stayed the case for 180 days to give the different parties time to explore other options.
This summer, the TLC had a filed a lawsuit against the City of Tulelake challenging the lack of due process in the city’s sale of the 358-acre Tulelake airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.
The airport, which is mainly used by local farmers for crop dusting, was constructed on land formerly occupied by the World War II Tule Lake War Relocation Authority/Segregation Center.
In a 2017 writ of mandamus filed by the TLC, the TLC notes that “the airport runway was constructed from the camp’s main firebreak.” An aerial photo appears to confirm this. A writ of mandamus is filed to request a specific act to be done by a certain entity obliged by law.
When TLC learned this summer that the city planned to sell the airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma for $17,500, the TLC counter-offered to purchase the property for $40,000, more than double the amount offered by the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.
However, at an August Tulelake City Council meeting, the council members unanimously supported the airport sale to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. Both the TLC and the Klamath Tribe, which has a separate water rights lawsuit, were only given three minutes to speak before the council to make their case.
Supporting the sale of the TMA to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma were farmers and local residents.
According to an Aug. 2 article by Lee Juillerat for The Herald and News, Blake Follis, attorney general for the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, is quoted as saying that the tribe “intends to keep and operate this as a public airport with the hope of fostering economic development.”
The article noted that Patrick Bergin, an attorney for the Modoc tribe, said his clients hope to increase usage of the airport.
The regional office of the FAA has approved the sale of the Tulelake airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.
This approval came despite the 2013 Tule Lake Segregation Center (Concentration Camp) — Traditional Cultural Property Significance Statement by Janet P. Eidsness in consultation with Thomas F. King and Barbara Takei. In the document, Eidsness made a strong case for considering the Tule Lake camp site as a Traditional Cultural Property under the National Historic Preservation Act, Section 106.
MODOC TRIBE OF OKLAHOMA
The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, a federally recognized tribe, is descendant of Kintpuash, known among white Americans as the Modoc chief Captain Jack.
During the 1800s, Kintpuash had led a band of Modocs to return to their ancestral homes in California, which led to the Modoc Wars between the Modocs and the U.S. military that lasted from 1872 to 1873. After their defeat, Kintpuash, along with three other Modoc leaders, were hanged and the remaining tribal members were shipped to what the U.S. government, at the time, considered “Indian Territory,” an area where the government forcibly relocated indigenous tribes in what is now part of Oklahoma.
In 1909, surviving Modocs in Oklahoma were given permission to return to Oregon/California, splitting the group. Those who remained in Oklahoma are federally recognized as the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, and those who returned as the Modoc/Klamath Tribes in Oregon.
In June, Steve Vockrodt with The Kansas City Star broke news about an illegal payday loan business that the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma and the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska were involved in.
As part of a settlement with federal prosecutors, both tribes admitted that Scott Tucker, a Kansas resident, had set up the illegal business on tribal lands as a way to sidestep state usury laws. A usury law governs how much interest an entity can charge on a loan in order to protect borrowers, but U.S. tribes are overseen by federal, not state laws, and the U.S. government does not have a usury ordinance for payday loans.
Tucker, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence, claimed he was merely an employee of the tribes, but he was convicted of running a $2 billion payday loan scheme where interest rates ran up to more than 700 percent and borrowers were duped regarding repayment loan terms. Proceeds from the illegal business was laundered through tribal bank accounts controlled by Tucker.
Tucker’s attorney, Timothy Muir, who is an Australian citizen, was also convicted of the same charges.
The Modoc Tribe agreed to surrender $2 million to the federal government, while the Santee Sioux Tribe settled to hand over $1 million.
In 2016, the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma had forfeited $48 million to the federal government for housing other payday loan businesses run by Tucker.
Additionally, The Herald and News reported that last year the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma has been purchasing a number of property sites near the former Tule Lake camp, especially in the city of Newell, and also bought 800 acres of land just north of the Lava Beds National Monument.
TULELAKE AIRPORT FENCE
Meanwhile, on a different front, the FAA and Modoc County continue to press to build an 8-foot-high cyclone fencing around the Tulelake airport.
Earlier this year, the FAA had sent a letter to the SHPO, noting that the FAA planned to move forward with the federal planning and environmental impact review portion of the fence construction. This letter included a Memorandum of Understanding that excluded any participation by Japanese American organizations or individuals.
The FAA’s approval came despite the opposition of more than 45,000 individuals and organizations writing to the FAA and to Modoc County to protest the fence construction, which would destroy the historic integrity of the former Tule Lake camp site.
In a response letter to the FAA, the TLC was especially critical of the FAA and Modoc County’s wildlife survey. The fencing had initially been proposed to keep wildlife out of the airport but the TLC noted that the FAA, itself, has reported that 98 percent of all aircraft collisions are from avian wildlife strikes.
Since the airport is located in the middle of two national wildlife refuges, which attract birds, the TLC concluded that a fence would do nothing to prevent avian wildlife strikes with airplanes.
The TLC’s letter said the only long-term solution to the incompatible use of an airport on a nationally significant historic site would be to move the airport, since a historic site cannot be moved. The TLC advocated a land swap with another appropriate government-owned land within Modoc County.
The TLC foresaw litigation, in both the state and federal courts, to continue into 2019. Because the TLC is a non-profit, most of the legal work is done pro bono but they are also seeking donations to defray various costs.