Japanese Americans speak out about proposed windfarm adjacent to Minidoka internment site
Across the region, Japanese Americans – including survivors of U.S. internment camps – are speaking out about a proposed wind farm in southern Idaho.
If the proposal is approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, approximately 400 turbines could be built on 200,000 acres of public and private land right next to the Minidoka National Historic Site, a World War II Japanese American internment camp.
At a recent open house about the project held in Mercer Island, Wash., people mingled as they examined the posters propped up by BLM officials. The agency is proposing various alternatives for the location of the project. Called the Lava Ridge Wind Project, LS Power subsidiary Magic Valley Energy first proposed the wind farm three years ago.
Some of the options would put the wind farm five or 10 miles away from the historic site so it wouldn’t be as visible. BLM has spoken about these various alternatives at similar meetings held in Portland and Twin Falls, Idaho – the closest major city to the proposed wind farm.
Members of the Japanese American community aren’t the only ones concerned about the potential impacts of the wind farm.
The Native American community — such as the Shoshone-Bannock and Sho-Pai Tribes — are worried about the effects a wind farm could have on the Wilson Butte Cave, which Native people are thought to have discovered 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. Like Minidoka, the Wilson Butte Cave is on the National Register of Historic Places. Other stakeholders have mentioned the possibility of the turbines making it harder to fight fires in the region.
Luke Papez, a project manager at Magic Valley Energy, attended the Mercer Island open house. He said the company is listening to community input.
The company wants to “really design the project to be protective of those resources while still trying to balance that protection with the need for clean energy here across the West,” Papez said.
The company said the current wind farm proposal, located near a substation and transmission lines, would produce enough energy to power about 350,000 homes all over the West.
“Renewable energy is a priority for the country, you know, and this would put renewable energy on the western grid,” said Michael Courtney, the BLM district manager in Twin Falls. He noted that construction of the project would likely take anywhere from two to six years.
But Erin Shigaki, whose family was incarcerated at Minidoka, said the project would ruin a sacred site. Shigaki said her father was born at Minidoka and, in absence of a medical doctor, was delivered by a horse veterinarian. Her grandparents were married there.
“It's a place of great hardship, but also a place where our community really banded together and took care of each other so that they could survive, you know, so that I could be here,” Shigaki said.
In a statement, Densho, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to preserving Japanese American history, said: "We share the concerns of many WWII incarceration survivors and descendants in our community surrounding the disruptive impact of this project, as currently proposed, on the Minidoka historic site.”
“Our sustainable, clean energy future must be intersectional in its approach and center those communities most impacted. Minidoka must be protected as a place for learning and healing for future generations,” the statement continued.
Courtney said he doesn’t expect BLM to make a final decision on whether it will approve the wind farm until the fall. But he also wouldn’t be surprised if someone decided to sue to try to block the project from moving forward.
BLM plans to continue to take comments from community members until April 20.
“We're asking people to look at the analysis and tell us what we're missing or what we didn't get right,” Courtney said. “We're not asking for a vote, you know, because that really doesn't help us. We'll take the substantive comments, and we'll adjust.”
Mary Tanaka Abo, who was two years old when she was incarcerated at Minidoka, said she won’t be satisfied unless the wind project is abandoned altogether.
“To me, Minidoka is a place of memory, history, a place of reflection and of healing,” she said. “If you want to replicate the experience of being at Minidoka, you need to have the whole experience, the land as well as the viewshed and wind turbines spiking the landscape twirling will not do that.”
“You don't compromise a sacred place. It has to be as it is, as it was.”