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Oregon Japanese-American families concerned about plans to build wind farm near WWII internment camp

The proposal would place 400 wind turbines within view of the Minidoka National Historic Site near Twin Falls, Idaho.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held an open house in Portland on Wednesday to discuss a plan to install hundreds of wind turbines near the former Minidoka Japanese Internment Camp in Jerome, Idaho, not far from Twin Falls.

For thousands of Japanese Americans, World War II meant upheaval. After Japan's strike on Pearl Harbor, then President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order calling for all Japanese Americans living within exclusion zones on the West Coast to be kept in more than a dozen concentration camps. One of those camps was Minidoka. It's where Portlander Joni Kimoto and her family stayed between 1942 and 1945.

"It impacted me quite a bit," Kimoto said, who was 3 years old at the time. "We were there because they took away everything else."

Joni doesn't remember much about what is now the Minidoka National Historic Site, but what she can recall is meaningful to her.

"I had a memory of the vastness of Minidoka and the extreme weather that we experienced. The dust storms, and the cold winters and hot summers," she said.

Credit: Joni Kimoto
Portlander Joni Kimoto and her family stayed at the Minidoka Japanese Internment Camp in Jerome, Idaho, between 1942 and 1945.

A few years ago, Kimoto returned to Minidoka on a pilgrimage along with 13 family members.

"I kept thinking, 'This is the same landscape that my parents saw when they arrived,'" she said.

It may not be the same for much longer. About two miles outside the Minidoka Historic Site is the proposed site for the Lava Ridge Wind Project. Magic Valley Energy wants to install and operate 400 wind turbines on federal, state and private land. BLM, which must sign off on the project, is taking public comment on the newly released Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

"It's not a, 'We're opposed to it/we're for it,' it's an environmental analysis," said Heather Tiel-Nelson, the public affairs specialist for the BLM’s Twin Falls District. 

Since getting the initial proposal in 2021, Tiel-Nelson said public feedback from more than 2,500 people has led to five alternative plans for the wind project site. That includes plans that would move the turbines up to six miles away from Minidoka.

"BLM has come forward with two preferred alternatives that are a much reduced size, ultimately to reduce the impacts while still allowing for the opportunity for clean renewable energy to be produced," Tiel-Nelson said.

Credit: KGW
Nearly 10,000 Japanese Americans were forced into incarceration at the Minidoka Japanese Internment Camp during World War II.

On Wednesday, the BLM Twin Falls District set up an open house in Portland. They invited the public to check out the options, ask questions and air concerns.

"Many consider the campsites sacred," said Rich Iwasaki. 

His mother and grandmother were sent to Minidoka. Iwasaki said he and many others in his community support clean energy, but not plans to build so close to Minidoka.

"It does minimize it," Iwasaiki said. "That chapter of American history, as dark as it is, is so important for future generations to understand what happened."

"It's important to know our past is being preserved," added Kimoto. "And it's not being altered by progress."

The BLM expects to make a decision in late fall. They plan to hold an open house in Seattle on Thursday.

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