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Tule Lake center could be National Historic Site

WASHINGTON — Liberals and conservatives alike want to remember an infamous Northern California internment camp that held Japanese-Americans in punitive conditions during World War II.

The Capitol Hill question now, a perennially pointed one when it comes to Western public land issues, is whether lawmakers can resolve their differences about details.

On Thursday, the National Park Service added its support for establishing the former Tule Lake Segregation Center in Modoc County as a National Historic Site. The move would give Tule Lake the same status as Manzanar, a well-known World War II internment camp site in Inyo County.

At the same time, a top official voiced concerns over parts of a bill by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., that would add to the Tule Lake designation some provisions that worry the National Park Service .

“We do have some particular issues,” National Park Service Associate Director Michael Reynolds told a House panel, adding that “we may be able to sit down and work with you.”

Opened in May 1942, Tule Lake was the largest of 10 camps run by the War Relocation Authority following President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 9066. The presidential order authorized the U.S. military to incarcerate U.S. residents of Japanese descent.

At its peak, Tule Lake housed 18,700 Japanese-Americans. It was also the only camp designated as a segregation center, set aside for the unruly or those considered disloyal to the United States. Twenty-eight guard towers, supported by tanks and machine-gun emplacements, kept order.

“Thousands of Japanese-Americans were shamefully detained against their will,” LaMalfa said, adding that “they retained their dignity under these conditions.”

The park service agrees with the broad intent of LaMalfa’s bill, which would add Tule Lake to the roster of some 90 National Historic Sites. A related Tule Lake bill has been introduced in the Senate by liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Both the House and Senate bills would remove Tule Lake from its current status as a unit of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which spans three states. LaMalfa said Thursday that Tule Lake wasn’t a good fit for a monument that was primarily built around military actions at places such as Pearl Harbor.

But unlike Boxer’s five-page Tule Lake bill, LaMalfa’s six-page version includes several provisions aimed at maximizing local control.

LaMalfa’s bill, for instance, requires approval by local city and county officials before any new land is added to the federally recognized site. Western conservatives and private property advocates have long chafed under Democratic presidents’ unilateral use of the Antiquities Act to set aside national monuments.

The House bill, unlike the Senate’s, also specifies that park service planners must work to “ensure that management of the historic site does not negatively impact operation of the (local) airport.”

Underscoring this point, the Republican-led subcommittee members called as their only outside witness Nick Macy, owner of Macy’s Flying Service in Tulelake.

“Today, I am one of the biggest non-government employers in Modoc County,” Macy said, adding that the LaMalfa bill “strikes a balance” between potentially competing interests.