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Friends of Minidoka seeks historic protections as shield from wind farm

Japanese American farm laborer
Russell Lee
Library of Congress
A Japanese-American farm worker shovels a field near Rupert in July of 1942.

The Friends of Minidoka says land around the Minidoka National Historic Site is important to protect because it evokes the sense of isolation incarcerees felt and it's where many worked as farm laborers.

The Friends of Minidoka, the nonprofit arm to the Minidoka National Historic Site, is seeking additional historic protections for the World War II Japanese incarceration camp, in an attempt to halt the proposed Lava Ridge Wind Project.

“We've realized that we needed some long-term protections for the Minidoka viewshed and to protect that immersive experience,” said Robyn Achilles, the executive director.

In December of 2022, the Friends of Minidoka and Oklahoma-based Algonquin Consultants, Inc., submitted an ethnographic report to the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office, suggesting that Minidoka was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a “traditional cultural property,” which are places of religious or cultural significance to Tribes or “other traditional communities.”

In a letter sent last February, Tricia Canady, the deputy state historic preservation officer, responded that the site was eligible for the designation.

However, she noted that the Friends of Minidoka’s proposed boundaries, which extend north to the Wood River Valley, were drawn “very large” and include “a significant amount of area where persons who were incarcerated did not physically spend time and that is not visible to the human eye from Minidoka.”

The Friends of Minidoka disagreed, saying that limiting protections to the 33,000-acre historic footprint of the War Relocation Center would be insufficient. The site managed by the National Park Service today is smaller than 400 acres.

“The historic footprint is not the footprint that the incarcerees experienced,” said Janet Keegan, a board member whose family members were incarcerated at Minidoka.

“Their footprint is much larger. It's the viewshed, plus all of the acreage where they developed – they cleared the sagebrush; they dug canals,” she said.

In a subsequent report submitted to the SHPO last month called “The Boundary of the Oppressor,” the organization doubled down on its request for a large protected area around the historic site.

With quotes, photos and artwork from incarcerees and descendants, the report advocated for the importance of the isolating, empty desert views and the surrounding landscapes on which incarcerees worked as farm laborers.

The Friends group is now waiting to hear back from the state office, and hopes the Bureau of Land Management, which is evaluating the Lava Ridge Wind Project, considers both reports.

The agency could release a final review of the wind farm as soon as next month, and could issue an ultimate decision on its fate this spring.

Last February, the Friends of Minidoka also nominated the 240,000 acres around Minidoka for a special BLM protection called an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which highlights where special management attention is needed to protect cultural or natural resources.

“We are trying to get as many tools in our toolbox to help protect it,” Keegan said.

The petition asks that wind farms be prohibited within the proposed area.

The BLM has not responded to the ACEC proposal. In an email, a spokesperson said the agency had conducted a preliminary evaluation and will include an assessment of its potential impacts in the final environmental impact statement for Lava Ridge.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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