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Minidoka National Historic Site makes annual list of nation's most endangered historic places

A black and white historic photo that shows Minidoka being constructed in the middle of the desert with sagebrush all around.
Courtesy of the National Archives
A historic photo shows Minidoka being constructed. The incarceration camp opened in 1942.

The Minidoka National Historic Site is one of the eleven most endangered historic places in the country, according to an annual list released by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Wednesday.

The reason for Minidoka’s inclusion is a large proposed wind farm nearby – the Lava Ridge Wind Project – which the nonprofit Friends of Minidoka said will permanently change the landscape that conveys the isolating experience of being incarcerated there.

As it’s proposed now, most of the 400 turbines in what is slated to be Idaho’s largest wind farm would be visible from the Jerome visitor center. Several of them would also be located on the historic footprint of the internment site, where 13,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II after being forcibly removed from their West Coast homes.

“This wind project, it feels like it’s minimizing what we experienced, what our community experienced in this country, and it’s, in a way, erasing part of our history,” said Robyn Achilles, the Executive Director of Friends of Minidoka.

Achilles’ parents were both incarcerated at different sites. Family members of incarcerees have said the Magic Valley’s desert landscape is central to the history of Japanese incarceration, and that the government purposely chose to bring people there to clear the land for farming.

Achilles said the wind farm threatens to change the experience of those visiting Minidoka who want to remember what happened there.

“Minidoka is not just a historic site – it’s also a memorial to those who suffered there,” she said. “Survivors and their descendants make pilgrimages to Minidoka every year, and Minidoka is a place where they can remember, heal and share stories, and their end goal is that we ensure that these violations of civil liberties never happen again."

Friends of Minidoka supports renewable energy, Achilles said, but thinks such projects should respect and preserve historic sites.

This comes as the Biden administration seeks to greatly boost renewable energy production on public lands to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

The Bureau of Land Management could release the environmental impact statement on Lava Ridge this fall, after which another public comment period would open.

The agency is also considering alternative wind turbine arrangements based on public feedback, including from Friends of Minidoka. Achilles said the organization is waiting on a “viewshed analysis” from the National Park Service on the alternative proposals.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.