Tule Lake Superintendent Discusses Controversial Fence

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 By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

An update on the controversial fence proposed for the Tule Lake Segregation Center site in Northern California was given by Mike Reynolds, superintendent of the Tule Lake Unit of the National Park Service’s WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, during a recent visit to Little Tokyo.

As part of a series of community meetings up and down the West Coast to get input on development of a visitor center, Superintendent Mike Reynolds and Project Manager Anna Tamura gave presentations and participated in discussions on July 24 and 27 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

Tule Lake Superintendent Mike Reynolds. (Photo by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Although the NPS does not yet have a visitor center at the former camp site where Japanese Americans labeled as “disloyal” were held, the City of Tulelake in Siskiyou County has a museum there. “So the barracks that’s there, the guard tower, and the displays are the town of Tulelake’s,” Reynolds said. “But the National Park Service has a desk and we staff that in the summertime. That’s where we do the tours, and we actually end up taking people through the museum … but those are not Park Service artifacts.”

He added, “It’s sort of a good match because the town is not thriving economically, so having the Park Service there is beneficial to them.”

The Tule Lake Committee, which organizes the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, has worked to preserve the site and supported its designation as a national historic landmark in 2006 and a 37-acre national monument in 2008. The committee has also launched a petition drive to stop a proposed three-mile fence at the Tulelake Municipal Airport that would interfere with access to the site.

Reynolds addressed the fence issue at the top of the meeting: “Modoc County has proposed a fence … to the FAA. The FAA has submitted that to the California State Historic Preservation Office for review, and the newest thing that’s happened … is that the State Historic Preservation Office responded back to the FAA and said, ‘We do not recommend that you do that. The … impact that that would have on the cultural and historic properties that are here would be adverse’ …

“Keeping in mind the State Historic Preservation Office is not a lawmaking body, they’re providing advice … We’ve certainly weighed in as well. These are important properties that need to be protected. So that’s where it is. It’s back in the FAA’s hands.”

There is a “significant difference” between Tule Lake and the Manzanar and Minidoka national historic sites, which are “very isolated and quite remote,” Reynolds pointed out. In the case of Tule Lake, “the town of Newell has sprouted up around and within where the camp was, so it’s not out by itself in a field, although it may seem like that to some of us in the city … There are a couple hundred people living there and doing business, and there’s a huge migrant farmworker community that’s there …

“Modoc County leases the land [for the airport]to the City of Tulelake and it’s the City of Tulelake’s airstrip, which is public … It’s an agricultural community. The whole Tule Lake Basin and Klamath Basin is primarily agricultural. The crop-dusting business, which is critical to all of that agriculture, is run from that airport, so 99 percent or more of the flights that take off are for crop-dusting services. It’s spring, summer, fall, all day, sunrise to sunset, there’s little planes taking off every 15 to 30 minutes.”

The fence is being proposed, Reynolds said, because “they’re concerned about the potential for vandalism to their expensive aircraft. There are also concerns about collisions with wildlife. So Modoc County expressed those concerns to the FAA, who indicated that for public airstrips the FAA typically would provide funding and has a template … When you say you have deer, for example, that can wander onto an airstrip, their template is you build an eight-foot fence around the perimeter of the airstrip.”

At the same time, Reynolds stressed that the locals are not against the development of Tule Lake as a historic site. “There’s definitely significant local support within Modoc County and Siskiyou County and Klamath Falls (Ore.) amongst local politicians and county boards of supervisors. There’s universal support for seeing successful development of Tule Lake.”

During the meetings held by the NPS in Tulelake and Klamath Falls, area residents were “completely supportive of the development of the site and the telling of the story,” Reynolds said, and their only request was that the impact of the camp on the local community also be included.

In the introduction to the online Change.org petition, Satsuki Ina, who was born at Tule Lake, wrote, “Besides being utterly unnecessary in such a desolate place, such a fence would desecrate the physical and spiritual aspects of Tule Lake, which has great historical and personal importance to me and many others. I am shocked by this insensitive and disrespectful plan. This massive fence will interfere with the desire I and visitors to Tule Lake have — to mourn the unjust imprisonment and to heal the scars of the past. Instead, we will be assaulted with a reminder of rejection, exclusion, and emotional pain …

“I’m part of a group of survivors, their families, and friends who organize tours and educational events at the Tule Lake Segregation Center. If this fence is constructed, it will send a strong message to Japanese Americans that they are not welcome at the site where they walked long distances to eat meals, attend school, and use the latrines. A fence will prevent all Americans from experiencing the dimension and magnitude of the concentration camp where people experienced mass exclusion and racial hatred.

“The FAA has the power to protect Tule Lake, a sacred site. In doing so, it has the power to honor, rather than desecrate, the remembrance of one of the darkest chapters in American history.

“According to the FAA, in an effort to be more ‘sensitive’ to our concerns, the proposed fence would not be topped with barbed wire — but that’s just not enough … I’m calling on the FAA to respect our community’s needs and wishes and reject this proposal.”

Ina is a psychotherapist, filmmaker (“Children of the Camps,” “From a Silk Cocoon”), and retired professor at Sacramento State University.

The petition, addressed to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Environmental Protection Specialist Douglas Pomeroy, has collected more than 25,000 signatures, about one-third of the goal.

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