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Funding needed to complete internment memorial

Construction on the internment memorial is delayed at least a year because of a shortfall in funding that has slowed things down. - Brad Camp/File Photo
Construction on the internment memorial is delayed at least a year because of a shortfall in funding that has slowed things down.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File Photo

$3 million is required to finish the construction.

Ten years ago the Bainbridge Island World War II Nikkei Internment and Exclusion Memorial Committee was formed to find a way of immortalizing the internment experience of the island’s Japanese community.

Designs have taken shape for a memorial at the historic departure site on the south shore of Eagle Harbor. There the committee plans to construct an interpretive center and a pathway that will invite visitors to take a contemplative walk along the same route the internees filed down to load onto the Eagledale ferry.

Work on the first of four construction phases was completed in 2006, but since then progress has been slow, mostly due to flagging funds.

More than $2.6 million of the roughly $5 million needed for the memorial has been raised through grants and donations. An initial $1 million was spent procuring land for the memorial in Pritchard Park.

In the first round of construction, volunteers erected a wooden pavilion, gates and a boardwalk on the site as well as an entry road and parking. The projects were budgeted at $600,000 but the road work, which the city was contributing to, cost more than expected and tapped into funds set aside for the second phase of work.

In that second phase, a 272-foot-long wooden “story wall” will be built bearing the names of all 272 of the island’s Japanese residents at the time of interment. Work on the wall was supposed to begin this spring, but Committee Chairman Clarence Moriwaki said the project is roughly $300,000 behind budget and request for a $350,000 state appropriation failed to pass in this year’s legislative session.

The shortfall will delay construction by at least a year.

“It’s disappointing,” Moriwaki said, “but we want to do it right.”

There is another issue literally blocking the path of the project. The parcel is home to a concrete pump house that squats in the way of the planned path to the shore. Moriwaki said he has met with the mayor and will talk to City Council members to find a cost effective method of removing the structure.

Memorial plans call for the “story wall” to be followed up with a $3 million project to add several buildings including an interpretive center and a classroom to the site.

Designs are for the interpretive center will be finalized in the coming weeks, but project manager John Buday said the building will meld Japanese influence with a Northwest style. The center will be partially built into a hillside and will feature a living roof.

“The building is going to be fairly contemporary,” Buday said. “We’re going to make it as green as we possibly can.”

The center’s timber-framed interior will house offices and a large exhibition space with moveable exhibits and room for up to 150 visitors. Buday said the meeting area will be roughly the size of the City Council’s chambers.

The fourth phase will complete the memorial with a 150-foot pier, to be built near the footprint of the original Eagledale ferry dock. The pier won’t be functional for boaters but will link the historic walking path to the harbor.

While the project needs funds to move forward on the island, proponents are also awaiting recognition from Washington, D.C.

In 2007 U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee of Bainbridge sponsored an act that would make the memorial a satellite of Minidoka Internment National Monument in Idaho, and a part of the National Park system. The measure passed in the House of Representatives but was added to a massive consolidated natural resources act in the senate, which has not been voted on.

If passed, the designation would allow the project to tap into federal funds and be maintained by the National Park Service. More important than the money, Moriwaki said, is the government recognizing the tragic event and supporting its commemoration.

While money might be short for the project, enthusiasm has not waned, Moriwaki said.

“Everyone wants the project to succeed,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding ways to make it happen.”

Committee members met last weekend with representative’s of the Minidoka site and the Manzanar National Monument in California, both sites Japanese internees from Bainbridge were sent.

Sunday marked the 66th anniversary of the Japanese internment and a luncheon was held at the site. As the number of residents who can recall boarding the ferry for internment dwindle, each year adds urgency to the project, Moriwaki said.

“The majority of our (original) Japanese residents have already passed away,” he said. “We want to build this before there is no one there to cut the ribbon.”

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