Survivors and descendants of Minidoka incarceration oppose Lava Ridge
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During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, allowing the War Relocation Authority to forcibly move 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent from their West Coast homes to inland internment camps.
Minidoka National Historic Site, north of Eden, is one such camp, which confined 13,000 Japanese Americans, primarily from Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
Karen Hirai Olen was born at the internment camp; her family was released when she was 18 months old. Her father had gotten a job as a farm hand near Curry, so the family stayed in the Magic Valley.
Hirai Olen said that, growing up, she never knew exactly what had taken place. It wasn’t something her family discussed.
“My parents never talked about Minidoka, really,” she told the Times-News. “When my mother’s friends would come to visit … they all spoke amongst themselves in Japanese. So we knew it wasn’t something good, but we had no idea what happened.”
Many descendants of survivors of the incarceration have said the same thing: It wasn’t something that was discussed. The pain was too raw.
The forced removal of Japanese Americans from their communities devastated their lives and erased livelihoods. Many lost all their possessions that didn’t fit in a suitcase. The effects are still felt in the community, several generations later.
“I would ask my mom different things and she would just kind of give me non-answers,” Hirai Olen said. “I really didn’t understand what it was all about until we started going on the pilgrimages.”
The first Minidoka Pilgrimage for survivors and descendants took place in 2003, and have taken place regularly ever since. The pilgrimages have been described as an act of healing, giving survivors and descendants a space to recognize and overcome the wrongs of the past.
It was on one such pilgrimage in 2007 that Hirai Olen said she finally heard her mother discuss her experiences of incarceration at Minidoka.
“It was a tremendous act of healing,” she said. “When you see 300 or more people at Minidoka, the sense of healing is so strong and the sense of cohesion within our community. We can come together about this 60, 70, 80 years later, I think that’s something that needs to be valued.”
‘The land was the prison’
To many survivors, Minidoka is sacred ground. The nonprofit Friends of Minidoka’s mission is to preserve, protect, and educate.
Executive Director Robyn Achilles told the Times-News that the group wants to make sure the story of incarceration is recognized and treated in an honorable and somber manner.
“You can imagine, for the Japanese-American community, incarceration is an incredibly painful and important part of our history,” Achilles said. “It really defined who we are, sadly, and how we were raised, and what we experienced after incarceration.”
The Japanese-American community adamantly opposes an application to place up to 400 wind turbines on Bureau of Land Management ground north of the Minidoka Historic Site.
When LS Power and Magic Valley Energy applied for a right-of-way permit from the BLM for the sprawling wind farm, many in the Japanese American community felt the progress made in the last 80 years toward acknowledgement of the violations of civil liberties would be a step backwards.
“When we found out about this proposal, we were shocked, and it was so painful because it felt like another attack on the Japanese-American community,” Achilles said. “We feel like the proposed project minimizes the trauma, the loss, and the humiliation that was suffered by American citizens based solely on their ancestry.”
The sense of isolation the incarcerated community experienced was amplified by the remote landscape, with vast, sweeping views, surrounded by emptiness. The possibility of a visual wall of spinning wind turbines interrupting the viewshed would alter that key feature, she said.
“One of the fundamental values of the park is the remote setting and immersive experience,” Achilles said. “Eighty years ago there was barbed wire, but so many of the survivors said the reality was they weren’t going to escape because the land was so remote and desolate, where would they go? The land was the prison.”
Alternatives shaped by public comment
During the scoping period in 2021, a majority of public comments submitted expressed concern from the Japanese-American community about the impact the wind project would have on Minidoka.
The draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project was released in January and is now in the public comment period, which has been granted a 30-day extension and will close on April 20.
Driven by the volume of comments concerned about the impact to Minidoka, the draft EIS evaluated three scaled-back alternatives that would reduce the visual impacts to Minidoka, in addition to evaluating the project as proposed by the applicant.
In Alternative B in the draft EIS, the nearest wind turbine would be sited approximately 1.7 miles from the Minidoka National Historic Site’s visitor’s center.
Alternatives C, D and E all have a reduced footprint, with wind turbines sited farther away from the historic site. Alternative D would put the turbines the farthest from the site — less than 6 miles from the visitors center.
Under all alternatives, windmills would be visible from the site.
The view from the Minidoka National Historic Site’s visitor’s center is shown in this image, which was part of the Visual Technical Report prepared for the Lava Ridge Draft EIS. COURTESY OF BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
An image from the Visual Technical Report prepared for the Lava Ridge Draft EIS simulates the “worst case scenario” of the proposed by LS Power and Magic Valley Energy. Known as “Alternative B” it would feature wind turbines up to 740 feet tall sited as near as 1.7 miles from the Minidoka National Historic Site’s visitor’s center. Note: the turbines are red in color for purposes of identifying their locations, and does not indicate a realistic visual simulation.COURTESY OF BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
In this illustration of Alternative D, simulated visibility of turbines located 5.5 miles from the visitor’s center.
Broad community opposition
Janet Keegan is on the Friends of Minidoka board, and is active in the Stop Lava Ridge Committee.
Keegan, a lifelong resident of the Magic Valley, is not only opposed to the project based on its impact to the historic site, but also because of the likely impacts the project would have on people who hunt game, people who graze cattle and people who farm.
“I feel like if the government were to approve it in any form, it would be another transgression such as incarceration was,” Keegan said. “It would take away livelihoods and way of life for the people in the Magic Valley who live and depend on that land.”
Keegan said she feels good about the ability of a community effort to halt the project.
Hundreds of people showed up to two open houses the BLM held for the project in Shoshone and Twin Falls. The amount of community participation is encouraging, Keegan said.
“I’m totally optimistic, I think that this thing could be squashed,” Keegan said. “Idaho has enjoyed years and years of just being able to recreate and enjoy our open spaces. And now we’re confronted with this threat. And we have to take care of it. We have to face it.”
To facilitate participation from the Japanese American community, the BLM is hosting open houses in Portland, Oregon, and Mercer Island, Washington. State and national partners like the Japanese American Civil League and the Japanese American Museum of Oregon are helping to spread awareness, and encouraging members of the community who are outside of the Magic Valley to participate.