By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) is seeking to preserve a part of American history that lies in a remote part of Idaho. The proposed construction of part of a 500-mile transmission line near a former Japanese internment camp in Minidoka would provide renewable energy to Idaho, Nevada, and California. However, the project poses an obstruction to the historical site, according to JACL.
In 2001, the United States National Park System established the Minidoka Internment National Monument as a historic park to “commemorate the hardships and sacrifices of Japanese Americans interned there during World War II,” according to the National Park Service website.
Minidoka, a small town between Twin Falls and Jerome in south central Idaho, was a 33,000-acre place where more than 13,000 internees from
Washington, Oregon, and Alaska were held between August 1942 and October 1945.
The proposed transmission line was brought to the attention of the JACL this past summer. “Since the information first came to my attention through our Washington D.C. office, there have been efforts to coordinate and share information between the JACL, The Conservation Fund, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Friends of Minidoka,” Karen Yoshitomi stated in an e-mail. Yoshitomi indicated that an ad hoc committee was created to address the proposed construction.
“The transmission lines would be intrusive of the park,” Yoshitomi added. “It would have a negative visual impact on Minidoka as a national historic site.”
LS Power, the company in charge of the project, has recognized the issue and is seeking alternatives to the construction of the transmission lines.
According to Mark Milburn, assistant vice president for LS Power, construction of the transmission line calls for “one or two towers (roughly 150–170 feet high) in the vicinity of the Minidoka Historical Site.” There would also be high voltage lines near the site.
LS Power, an independent power developer, purchased the right-of-way access to build the transmission line, which would be constructed adjacent to the historical site. The proposed construction project began in 1994 when Idaho Power, a regulated utility company, owned the right-of-way adjacent to the Minidoka Historic Site. LS Power did not obtain the rights to the project until 2005. Milburn pointed out that the Minidoka Historical Site was not a historic park at the time the original plans were made in the mid 1990s. No amendments to the plans have been made made since LS Power gained the rights.
Milburn stated that LS Power is working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in developing alternatives to the original plan that will provide the most benefit to all. In addition, LS Power has conferred with environmental consultants and communicated with local group, Friends of Minidoka, to discuss the alternatives. Milburn said that LS Power did not communicate with the JACL. Yoshitomi indicated the JACL has not communicated with LS Power about the construction, although it stays informed through its partnership with Friends of Minidoka.
While an alternative is sought, Milburn expressed concern that delays may affect its long-term plans. “There is no specific timeline in place [for construction],” Milburn added. “[The construction is] substantially in the hands of the BLM.” However, Milburn expressed “concern about slippage” in terms of the overall timeline for the project based on commercial plans and customer needs by this year. LS Power hopes to have all permits for construction by the end of 2010.
Despite the impending construction, Milburn anticipates that a mutual agreement can be made. “We are going to be neighbors for a long time and we want to do what’s best,” said Milburn.
Based on the belief that an alternative route will be mapped out, Yoshitomi stated that the JACL will focus on supporting an alternate route.
“Minidoka, as with the other concentration and internment camps, serves as a reminder of the need to remain vigilant in order to protect and preserve the rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” Yoshitomi said. ♦
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.