LADWP’s Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch Is Deemed “Butchery and Rape” By Former Manzanar Prisoner

Hank Umemoto, a former Manzanar incarceree, and author of Manzanar To Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker, shares more thoughts on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s proposed Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch, which would be built east of the Owens River, but in a direct line of sight from Manzanar National Historic Site.

The Manzanar Committee announced its opposition to the construction of the solar ranch near Manzanar on August 16, 2013. Our statement: Manzanar Committee Denounces LADWP Proposal To Build 1,200-Acre Solar Ranch Near Manzanar.

by Hank Umemoto

Even after 72 years, I can vividly picture the magnificent expanse of bluish white reflection of the mid-morning sun dazzling amid the rusty color Inyo Mountain range in the backdrop that suddenly came alive at the gateway to Owens Valley. It was Owens Lake, but it was more than just a lake.

“Look,” mother said as she tugged on my arm. With a gleam in her eyes and a smile of exhilaration, she pointed at the lake. She had lost her life savings, was forcefully uprooted from her farm that she had toiled over thirty years, and was now being transported to a concentration camp in the Owens Valley called Manzanar. In the midst of gloom and despair, the spectacular vista of Owens Lake brought bliss and ecstasy to her, and perhaps to a millions more who were in similar distress.

This was May of 1942. Today, Owens Lake is just an oversize puddle, unquestionably an eyesore to millions who pass by the lake each year. It is truly a disaster caused not by natural elements. It was not an earthquake, and it was not a flood that caused such a calamity.

It was the greed and apathy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

Today, LADWP has ventured into another sinister escapade, developing a 1,200-acre solar farm with absolutely no concern for the history, culture and aesthetic values of the region. They have not taken into account, or even researched, the fact that Shepherd Creek flowed miles south a century ago, close to Manzanar Reward Road, behind Shepherd Ranch, and that the vicinity near Shepherd Ranch was a swampland where the Paiutes once made their homes.

At the center of Manzanar, kids found arrowheads and sold them to the Issei (first generation Japanese) for two-bits (25 cents). The region was also a mining country with Manzanar Reward Mine in the proximity of the proposed solar ranch, and later, a Fruit farming community across the present highway along Manzanar Reward Road.

This is also a gateway to the Sierras, the famous John Muir Trail and to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the 48 contiguous states. Adjacent to Mount Whitney, and in the background of the Manzanar Visitor Center, is Mount Williamson, the second tallest mountain (next to Mount Whitney). As hikers drive down from Whitney Portal, the magnificent Owens Valley is a sight to behold and is one of the thrills and delights of ending a strenuous hike with a panorama so pristine and heavenly.

Now, LADWP is at the verge of transforming this blessed area into another Owens Lake, another eyesore in the name of profit. This lack of concern to humanity must end. With hundreds of thousand of acres that they own, there must be a location that has less cultural impact and/or other means of producing renewable energy.

Earlier, I called it a sinister plot by the LADWP. I claim it to be sinister because, at the hearing in November, they showed a photograph of the location of the proposed solar ranch site that was taken from the parking lot of Manzanar Visitor Center and appeared to be in the vicinity of Manzanar sewage plant across the Owens River and at about the same elevation at the Visitor Center. But the actual proposed site is farther north, on the north side of Manzanar Reward Road, and at an elevation of up to 3,000 feet above Manzanar Visitor Center, and it would be like having the solar panels put on a stage for everyone to see.

Deception such as this, in my opinion, is more than being sinister. In my opinion, this is a criminal act on the part of LADWP. Perhaps LADWP never researched the Manzanar Visitor Center. They may not know that over 7,000 men, women and children who were imprisoned at Manzanar were born in this country. They were born here, but all rights as a citizen were unlawfully taken away. The Visitor Center is there to tell the story so that it may never happen again. It is there to tell a story in an environment as it were, untouched by distracting structures such as solar panels on a stage.

This butchery and rape of God-created splendor and tampering with important historical site must be stopped!

The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.

LEAD PHOTO: Former Manzanar incarceree Hank Umemoto, shown here speaking at the 44th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 27, 2013. (click above to view larger image) Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.

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