National Park Service On Tule Lake Airport Fence: “We’ve Certainly Weighed In” On The Issue With FAA

LOS ANGELES — On July 24, the National Park Service provided details and an update on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed perimeter fence that would enclose the airstrip at the site of the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

At their public meeting in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo to gather community feedback on how Tule Lake should be managed over the next twenty years, Mike Reynolds, Superintendent, Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific and Lava Beds National Monument provided some background.

“It’s a public airstrip,” he said. “Modoc County leases the land to the City of Tulelake. It’s the City of Tulelake’s airstrip, so if we were all wealthy enough to own airplanes that are small enough, we could land there.”

“It’s an agricultural community,” he added. “The whole Tulelake and Klamath basin is primarily agricultural. The crop dusting business, which is critical to all that agriculture, is run out of that airport. 99 percent, or more, of the flights that take off are for crop dusting services. Spring, Summer and Fall, all day, sunrise to sunset, there’s little planes taking off every 15 to 30 minutes, providing crop dusting services.”

Reynolds indicated that the primary concern of the crop dusting operation is to protect their aircraft.

“They’re concerned about the potential for vandalism to their expensive aircraft, and there are concerns about collisions with wildlife,” said Reynolds. “Modoc County expressed those concerns to the FAA, who indicated that for public airstrips, they would typically provide funding.”

Opponents of the FAA’s proposal are adamant that the fence would destroy the historic character of the site.

The Tule Lake Committee, sponsor of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage, is leading the way in terms of advocating for the preservation of the Tule Lake site. In a July 2012 statement, they wrote, “The current proposal to erect an eight-foot high, 16,000-foot long fence through the center of the former concentration camp site will effectively divide the site in half and make it inaccessible to Japanese Americans, and other interested parties, who want to visit the site.”

“Many visitors to the site typically seek the location of the barrack where their family was assigned,” the statement continued. “They want to traverse the site to experience the dimension and magnitude of the place, to gain a sense of the distances family members walked in their daily routine to eat meals, attend school, to do laundry and use the latrines. They want to summon up the ghosts of the place, to revive long suppressed memories and to mourn personal and collective loss.”

“Presence of a three-mile long fence in the very center of the Tule Lake site will impede such reflection. Rather than being able to traverse the site, visitors would be confronted by a massive, intimidating fence built to let them know they are trespassers who are unwelcome and being warned away.”

In early July 2013, the Tule Lake Committee launched a petition drive to STOP The Fence At Tule Lake on At press time, the petition had 18,930 signatures.

In July 2012, the Manzanar Committee announced its opposition to the Tule Lake airstrip fence.

“Over the years, we have learned just how important seeing the site is to be able to comprehend and understand the conditions and characteristics of the Manzanar concentration camp,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “Being able to interact with the actual physical landscape, experience the climate first-hand, and see the remnants of the buildings unfettered is absolutely essential to a serious appreciation of what life was like during incarceration at Manzanar, as well as the other American concentration camps, and other confinement sites throughout the United States. This is precisely why the National Park Service and its volunteers conduct walking tours at Manzanar whenever possible, and this is always an integral component of our annual Pilgrimage.”

“Constructing an imposing physical barrier, such as a eight-foot high fence, would negatively impact the Tule Lake site,” added Embrey. “The Manzanar Committee strongly opposes the construction of the proposed perimeter fence, and we offer our unswerving support of the efforts of the Tule Lake Committee in preserving the Tule Lake Segregation Center.”

Soji Kashiwagi, a member of the Tule Lake Committee, expressed his concerns about the fence at the July 24 meeting.

“My main concern is about the [proposed] fence,” Kashiwagi noted. “I voiced my feelings about how that would be a big detriment to the site. I understand that their hands are kind of tied, because they do not own the land.”

“They can only put in their opinion, which is frustrating,” Kashiwagi lamented. “But they’re in a really tough position. The only thing we can do is voice our opposition to it.”

Indeed, Reynolds indicated that the National Park Service has discussed the issue with the FAA, but added that they have no say in the decision.

“We are not the FAA,” he noted. “This is not our decision to make. But we’ve certainly weighed in, saying that these are important properties that need to be protected.”

Reynolds added that the National Park Service will work to ensure protection of, and access to, key resources, sites and structures at Tule Lake, no matter what the FAA decides.

Gann Matsuda, who writes from Culver City, California, is the Manzanar Committee’s Director, Communications and Social Media/Web Editor.

LEAD PHOTO: Soji Kashiwagi of the Tule Lake Committee was one of several community members who railed against the proposed fence that would enclose the airstrip at Tule Lake. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

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