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Tule Lake Committee re-files airport fencing lawsuit

Herald and News by Lee Juillerat 4/13/17

A second lawsuit against Modoc County was filed recently by the Tule Lake Committee (TLC) over an ongoing dispute about fencing the Tulelake Airport.

The TLC claims in the suit that erecting a fence around the airport violates a state environmental law that protects historic places. The airport is within the former World War II Tule Lake Segregation Center, where more than 12,000 Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of them United States citizens, were incarcerated.

Barbara Takei, a TLC spokeswoman, said the site “needs protection from an airport whose planned expansion would cause irreparable damage to this historic site. Tule Lake is unique as the only War Relocation Authority concentration camp that was converted into a maximum-security segregation center.”


The TLC sued in July 2014, and re-filed the suit in an attempt to compel Modoc County to review the World War II resources, both surface and sub-surface, that remain in the Tulelake airport site. The suit asks Modoc Superior Court to compel Modoc County to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a state environmental law that 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 the county studies and documents, in advance, the airport’s impacts on the historic fabric of this nationally significant place,” Takei said.

Wildlife concerns

Modoc County officials previously said the fence is required by the Federal Aviation Administration to prevent wildlife from going onto the airport runway and possibly colliding with airplanes. The airport is leased to Macy’s Aviation and is used for agricultural crop dusting, a vital aspect of the region’s economy. The city of Tulelake, which is located in Newell in Siskiyou County, owns the airport land and leases it to Modoc County to operate the airport.

The airport issue has created ill feelings between the TLC and Tulelake Basin residents, and have impacted ongoing planning efforts to develop the Tule Lake Unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. The Unit does not include but is adjacent to the airport.


Takei said the lease was due to expire in October 2014. In January 2014, Modoc County 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, according to Takei, ignored the TLC’s request and approved the 30-year lease extension.

In July 2014, the TLC’s attorney, Susan Brandt Hawley, who Takei says is an expert on CEQA and historic preservation, filed a court petition seeking Modoc County’s compliance with the mandates of CEQA. The county rescinded the 30-year lease extension, then approved a new 30-year lease extension without environmental documentation.

Stakeholder discussions

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

A second petition filed the same day alleges “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.



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