By Raymond Douglas Chong, AsAmNews Staff Writer
On the high desert of Idaho, a wind farm of 400 windmills may adversely impact the Minidoka National Historic Site. The Nikkei community is deeply concerned about its impact on the sacred memorial, the Minidoka Relocation Center. During World War II, the United States illegally incarcerated 13,000 Japanese Americans due to xenophobia on Minidoka from August 16, 1942, to October 26, 1945.
Minidoka Relocation Center
The Minidoka Relocation Center is located in the Magic Valley of the Snake River Plain, at nearly 4,000 feet elevation. The temperatures through extremes could range from well below zero to over 100 degrees.
Those imprisoned there were given ten days to pack their belongings. WRA initially evacuated them to the Portland Assembly Center at the Pacific International Livestock Exposition Pavilion before moving them to Minidoka.
Minidoka consisted of 950 acres of desert on 36 blocks, each block comprised of 12 barracks. Those incarcerated lived in harsh and bleak conditions. WRA housed the internees in tarpaper barracks, cramped quarters, and shared communal facilities with sweeping vistas and distant mountains. The incarceration traumatized the internees.
After their release, they faced troubles with racism in American society. Neighbors rejected them. Employers refused to hire them.
Lava Ridge Wind Project
Maple Valley Energy (MVE) has applied to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to use federal lands for their Lava Ridge Wind Project.. Located within Jerome, Lincoln, and Minidoka Counties, the Lava Ridge Wind Project has the potential to generate 1000+ megawatts of wind energy (up to 400 wind turbines).
Luke Papez, Project senior director, said, “The need for renewable energy across the West continues to grow. Idaho has been a longstanding leader in the generation of clean energy and the Salmon Falls project continues this legacy, positioning Idaho at the forefront of production of wind energy in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner, while supporting significant increases in economic benefits that few other opportunities can provide,” he said to Boise State Public Radio.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) recognized that Lava Ridge Wind Project would potentially place wind turbines within the historic footprint of the Minidoka Relocation Center. The Project could irrevocably change Minidoka’s landscape with its visual wall of wind turbines. As a result, NTHP listed Minidoka on America’s 11 Most Endangered Places in 2022.
Draft Environmental Impact Statement
The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on the Lava Ridge Wind Project for its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
For the draft EIS, the BLM developed alternatives ranging from rejecting the project to downsizing it.
• Alternative A – No Action, in which the BLM would not authorize construction, operation and maintenance, and decommissioning of the project.
• Alternative B – Proposed Action, as described by MVE, would span 197,474 acres and would have a maximum of 400 wind turbines.
• Alternative C – Reduced Western Corridors, which has a project area of 146,389 acres and a maximum of 378 wind turbines.
• Alternative D – Centralized Corridors, which has a project area of 110,315 acres and a maximum of 280 wind turbines.
• Alternative E – Reduced Southern Corridors has a project area of 122,444 acres and a maximum of 269 wind turbines.
“The draft EIS shows that implementation of BLM preferred alternatives will avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to important resources. This is a good example of how the public process led by the BLM can lead to a compromise all sides can appreciate,” said Papez.
“BLM has come forward with two preferred alternatives that are a much-reduced size, ultimately to reduce the impacts while still allowing for the opportunity for clean renewable energy to be produced,” Heather Tiel-Nelson, BLM public affairs specialist, said, according to KGW.
DEIS Open House
In early March 2023, BLM held an open house to receive comments on the Lava Ridge Wind Project’s draft EIS, in Portland.
“It is vital to preserve the site so future generations can understand and feel the isolation, desolation, and sense of displacement that their ancestors felt. This project and the destruction of the Minidoka view shed would be yet another blow struck against the Oregon Japanese American community who already experienced immense loss when their families were forcibly removed during World War II,” said Mark Takiguchi, Interim Deputy Director at the Japanese American Museum of Oregon (JAMO), in a statement. JAMO supports Alternative A – No Action.
At the open house, I interviewed two survivors of Minidoka Relocation Camp and one descendant.
As a one-year-old, Janice Matsunaga Okamoto arrived at Minidoka Relocation Camp and lived with her family at Block 34, Barrack 5. Her parents ran a laundry and dry cleaning business in Portland. Henry Yoshio Matsunaga, her father, played piano with the Norakuro Band. Men and boys played baseball. After their release, Henry worked as a driver for DENNIS Uniform, Portland.
“The Lava Ridge Wind Project, with its proximity, would ruin the landscape. It would rob us of our history. We need to speak for the issei and Nisei. Please do not rob our dignity.”
Frances Sumida Palk’s parents ran the Taylor Hotel in downtown Portland. Then, as a 2-year-old, she moved to the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho. She remembered the dust storms outside the tar paper barrack. George Sumida, her father, separated from the family, and worked as an accountant during the construction of Anderson Ranch Dam.
“I remember the internment camp as a miserable place. The Japanese Americans, who were citizens, really suffered. I want those who hear about it to know what dedicated Americans we were, who appreciated being citizens.”
“I hope the physical entity of Minidoka and the other nine camps survive, so it resembles a visible reminder of our freedom, very much like the Statue of Liberty.”
El Kiyoko Nakayama is a Gosei, a fifth-generation Japanese American living in Portland. In the summer of 2019, her family made their first pilgrimage to the Minidoka Relocation Center. At the entrance, Keith Nakayama, her grandpa, stood and cried. The pilgrimage catalyzed El to search for her Japanese American family roots.
“To see the land, its vast area, and the isolation of Minidoka was life-changing for me. As the next generation, I will take the torch for our history.”
“How can we respect these places full of history? The next generation will be affected by history? How do we want to hold space for future generations to understand this history and heal from it?”
In fall 2023, when they finish the final DEIS in response to comments, BLM will decide either to reject the project, to allow the project, or to modify the project. The Nikkei community is very anxious about whether the sacred grounds of Minidoka Relocation Camp will be preserved or desecrated.
MINIDOKA WAS A CONCENTRATION CAMP IN IDAHO
I am afraid that all my ancestors.
have gathered my words like birds
collect hair from the dead
for nesting, an abundance of silence,
whole spools of it ready to tether
me to the trees. I am a new father,
too young for ghost stories, too fresh
to remember what it was like to shiver
out on the prairie. I see my own breath,
sometimes when my son cries
at night. He doesn’t have to describe
those things he fears in the dark
because my grandmother told me
the world will never be safe for us
when she refused to say the name
of that place we come from. Minidoka,
I say to him and my ancestors lay
fingers across my lips. Do not be ashamed
-W Todd Kenko
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