After more than sixty years, the Tuskegee Airmen are honored with a Congressional Gold Medal for their efforts during World War II.
Steve Goldstein: Some brand-new maps show us where Arizona's earth fissures are. Find out more tonight on Horizon.
>> Steve Goldstein: Tonight on Horizon, parts of Arizona are sinking and cracking. Now new maps are on the way that show us where this is happening.
>> Steve Goldstein: And after more than 60 years, the Tuskegee Airmen receive Congressional gold medals for their efforts during World War II. Those stories are next on Horizon.
>> Steve Goldstein: Good evening. I'm Steve Goldstein. Welcome to horizon. Earth fissures can cause serious damage to property. These tension cracks in the earth are located throughout much of the state. But up until now, information about where they exist has been sketchy. The Arizona geological survey is preparing to release the first comprehensive maps of fissures in the state. I will talk with the surveyor's director in a moment but first David Majure shows us where some of the fissures are found.
>> David Majure: Joan Etzenhouser lives at the base of the San Tan Mountains. She is getting used to the scorpions and snakes that occasionally show up on her property but the holes on her ground scare her quite a bit.
>>Joan Etzenhouser: I have horses. I'm a little concerned about riding them. The holes are large enough that it could break a leg on a horse. You can follow along. I have had a cave-in here. There's a crack over here that's doubled in size. This one's real clear. It's opened up here. That's probably tripled in size. That's probably tripled in size. And I can't see how far in it goes.
>> David Majure: Shortly after she bought her property in 2003, she started noticing peculiar openings in the earth.
>> Joan Etzenhouser: I didn't know what it was. I've had people come out, confirm that I have fissures. And I have one running under my home. And I don't know what effect it has on the value of the property. I suspect it's not a good thing.
>> Todd Shipman: They pose specific hazards towards building because as you can imagine a large cavity like this opening up between -- below your foundation is going to cause cracking.
>> David Majure: Todd Shipman knows a lot about earth fissures. He is a geologist for the Arizona geological survey and project manager for the survey's new earth fissure mapping project. It's the first attempt to locate and map every fissure in the state. Today he's in an area where fissures are fairly common.
>> Todd Shipman: We are here in the San Tan Mountains at the base and what we are looking at is a large, deep fissure gully. Actually, the initial crack that's created from an earth fissure is a crack that will express itself as a centimeter wide or be an inch-wide crack. But once water starts to flow into it, this crack will open up until a big gully and that's what we see here.
>> David Majure: Earth fissures are caused by pumping ground water faster than it can be replenished.
>> Todd Shipman: If you extract water, which has a certain volume, from the ground, that volume is gone, and now the area above it is going to compact.
>> David Majure: The land sinks and sometimes cracks. If rain water drains into the cracks they can erode and open into small canyons that can be hundreds of feet deep. Filling them in with dirt won't stop them from opening up again. And while building on a fissure is not a good idea, shipman says developers can plan around them.
>> Todd Shipman: It's like anything. If you know where a flood plain is then you work around the flood plain. If you know where an earth fissure is, you work around the earth fissure.
>> David Majure: Shipman hopes the new maps will help home builders and home buyers make better and more informed decisions.
>> Todd Shipman: That's really the key in what we are frying to provide by mapping these is to give people the opportunity to find out where these things are, and how they can work around them.
>> Joan Etzenhouser: Well, if I would have known I wouldn't have bought. Who wants this?
>> David Majure: The Arizona geological survey's earth fissure maps might have helped Etzenhouser avoid some of the grief and worries that she has now.
>> Joan Etzenhouser: That I have lost everything I've put into this property. That I live on a worthless piece of land, that my home might be further damaged by the fissure that's running underneath it.
>> Steve Goldstein: Joining me now to talk about the earth fissure mapping project is Dr. Lee Allison, director of the Arizona geological survey and the state geologist. Thanks for being here today.
>> Dr. Lee Allison: Steve, thanks for having me.
>> Steve Goldstein: What prompted the earth fissure maps?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: Well, the legislature passed a bill last year, and the governor signed it into law, that came around as a result of an earth fissure opening up in the Queen Creek area in August of 2005. It made a lot of news attention. It really brought to everybody's attention what a serious problem earth fissures were. As a result of that, the community got together, so the builders, the realtor, the nature conservancy, Sierra Club, local officials all decided we needed to work together to find a common solution to this.
>> Steve Goldstein: How much detail is going to be involved in the initial maps coming out next week?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: The first maps we are putting out are called planning maps. This is the first statewide compilation of all the known earth fissures reported over the last 20 years or longer. It's really a planning map for us and the community to know where the fissure problems are, where we are going to be doing the more detailed mapping that will come out over the next three to five years.
>> Steve Goldstein: So people, for example in Queen creek won't be able to know, down the street there's a fissure, I shouldn't buy a house there?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: The maps we are putting out next week are at one to quarter million scale. County will be something like this on a single sheet. We are doing it for four counties in central and southern Arizona where most of the fissures are found. No, these maps aren't going to help you look for your house specifically. But you will be able to tell if 82 neighborhoods, if your community is in an area that's prone to earth fissures and if you were going to buy property, we would suggest you get some professional advice and look at that property specifically.
>> Steve Goldstein: So isn't there a specific area in a specific county we really need to watch out for more than others?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: We have identified 22 different study areas, as we call them, clusters of earth fissures around the state. They are all in four counties: Maricopa, Pinal, Pima, Cochise. Pinal has the largest number of them. But they are scattered across the counties. And any given area there may be one or two fissures up to dozens or more. And they vary in length from a few feet to many miles.
>> Steve Goldstein: Many miles. What sort of impact can that have?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: If you look at some of the longest earth fissures in the state one crosses I-10 near Eloy so ADOT has had to go out there numerous times and repair the highway and adjust it. There's a section of a fissure that also goes under the central Arizona project canal. And so that section of the canal has a special line inner it so if there's movement we are not rupture the canal and have all the water run out. We have had to deal with some of these bigger earth fissures and the impacts on our infrastructure.
>> Steve Goldstein: What's happened in Queen Creek? That's what caused the legislature to act. But how long have earth fissures been around in Arizona?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: It's interesting. The first earth fissure was reported in about 1927 and it's one of the first ever reported in the world. Earth fissures never existed before mankind came along and started over pumping the valleys. It's not some kind of geological phenomenon that you can go back in the past and find Paleozoic fissures. They are a modern, natural phenomenon that but they have been induced by people over pumping the valleys.
>> Steve Goldstein: When you talk with geologists in other parts of the country they look at you blankly and say, what are you talking about?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: Exactly. That's what I hear commonly. We have seen earth fissures in Arizona, Nevada, parts of southern California and maybe West Texas. We have heard of some in central Mexico in a geological setting very similar to what we have here. In other areas, people have never heard of them. And the geologist have not done the kind of research on them because it's been such a local phenomenon. So we are really starting from a very low knowledge level of how to respond and deal with fissures.
>> Steve Goldstein: There is an example of a fissure near Las Vegas that has caused a lot of problems. Can you give us details?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: It's several zones of fissures in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has one of the worst problems in the country for earth fissures and talking with my colleagues they tell me there was a housing development of about 250 homes of which 120 were so severely impacted by fissures that they were torn down at a cost of $20 million. And the area around North Las Vegas is noted for a number of earth fissure zones. Not dissimilar to some of the zones or clusters of fissures we see in central and southern Arizona.
>> Steve Goldstein: Are geologists in Nevada waiting to see your maps and sort of work with you?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: We are working very closely with our colleagues in Nevada sharing information, sharing best practices, figuring out how to do this. They have invited us up to Las Vegas to take a tour and see how severe the problem is and how they are attempting to deal with it. So we are looking forward to getting up there.
>> Steve Goldstein: On the cusp of these maps being released you have been going around to various counties. You mentioned that the maps focus on four counties. What are the most common questions you get from people? Whether it's policymakers or the average person, that they wonder about fissures.
>> Dr. Lee Allison: I think most people want, that we have talked to want very detailed maps. They want to know exactly where the fissure is so they can make good decisions. And those right maps we are working on right now. The first set of those maps would be in the chandler heights, queen creek area. We expect to finish those up this month or within a few weeks and release them publicly. They will be available on the state land development website so you and the public can go get that information, overlay it with other types of data and create your own customized maps. So the maps we are putting out next week are our planning maps saying here's where we know they are, here's the different areas where we will be working and here's our 22 study areas. Here's the first one we are working on.
>> Steve Goldstein: You are someone with great knowledge of this subject. How would you feel if you were someone who had bought a house and then you found an earth fissure that destroyed the value of your property?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: I would be devastated. But there are things you can do to help mitigated. One of the big problems we saw with Todd shipman in the field is allowing water to get in the earth fissure which may only be an inch wide or so but they are four to five00 feet deep. They may run for miles so when water gets in it can erode a lot of soil from the surface down in there. What you want to do is grade your property, keep the water from coming into a fissure. That will help reduce the chances of it opening up into a fissure gulley and eroding away and becoming an active problem.
>> Steve Goldstein: How deeply could this affect an area that relies so much on development? That has new developments moving further and further out as our density lessens? How does that affect property owners or builders?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: That's why everybody is so concerned. When we first founds earth fissure, many of them around the margins of the basin, in agriculture areas or rural areas and it wasn't a problem. In recent years we have seen so much growth that people are moving in and building on top of fissures, many times not recognizing it's a fissure. Seeing it looks like a natural gully and not realizing it's been there for a few decades and it's weathered out that way. That's why we are working very quickly because the development pressures are so high and people aren't recognizing fissures that it's going to be real easy for somebody to inadvertently build on top of a fissure. We are working with the developers particularly closely because they can design their space and put green space where the fissures are retention ponds for runoff and things like that. There's ways in land use planning that can help design and reduce the impact on potential development.
>> Steve Goldstein: We typically with great problems like this, they have been around a while and we discover them and try to fix the problem but we can't be reckless with it. What can you tell people to do for next three to five years? We wait for more details?
>> Dr. Lee Allison: Well, it's some of the detailed maps will start coming out this summer. And as soon as we finish an area those maps will be made public. We will systematically work across the state, starting where they are the most active and the fastest development is going on, where the pressures of development are near the fissures. And if we are working on an area and we hear about a problem somewhere else we can divert resources. So it's not waiting three to five years for everything. Three to five years to get the first complete set of detailed maps everywhere in the state but in the meantime with the set of maps we will put on our website starting Monday morning you can go in and see, are you even in an area that's prone to fissures? You can get a rough idea if you are vulnerable. And if you are concerned about it there's a lot of very qualified geotechnical firms who can come out and do a site-specific study for you and determine if you have a hazard, what risk you are, and what mitigation efforts you may be able to take to keep these from becoming more of a problem.
>> Steve Goldstein: How might this change the legal landscape as impeach are out and can't say, "I condition know?"
>> Dr. Lee Allison: One of the laws passed was a disclosure property. If you are selling your property you have to say, is there a fissure on my property, yes, no, don't know. If you say don't know you probably want to look at the maps. If they say no, then, they have assumed a certainly liability telling you we have checked what maps are out there and we can't find any evidence for it. So hopefully there's some better tools out there to help people make informed decisions and avoid the risks.
>> Steve Goldstein: Dr. Lee Allison thanks so much for coming on horizon to talk about earth fissures. We appreciate it.
>> Dr. Lee Allison: Thank you for having me.
>> Steve Goldstein: The Arizona Tuskegee airmen and their surviving families were presented with replicas of the gold congressional medal at the capital. They overcame the prevalent racism to excel in World War II and inspire revolutionary reform in the armed force. In a moment we will talk about the historic achievements of the Tuskegee airmen. First Merry Lucero recaps the gold medal presentation.
>> Merry Lucero: They fought bravely and served our country during World War II. Finally, the Tuskegee airmen are being recognized in Arizona. At a recent ceremony 14 of Arizona's Tuskegee airmen were presented with replicas 69 congressional gold medal. Governor Janet Napolitano honored them.
>> Gov. Janet Napolitano: You should know that your legacy and the things that you have done live on today in our fighting men and women and you should be very, very proud of that and we should all be very, very proud of that.
>> Merry Lucero: In 1941, the U.S. Government created the Tuskegee institute. It was an experimental college formed to substantiate a war-time study claiming blacks were unreliable in combat and unable to train as pilots.
>> Gov. Janet Napolitano: In 1942 the first five students successfully completed training followed by 987 more who received their wings and all became known as the Tuskegee airmen, and despite federal policy, if there would be no discrimination based on race or color, Tuskegee airmen endured racial discrimination and yet prevailed. Through dedication and commitment to set new standards of excellence in the defense of our station.
>> Merry Lucero: They flew 1500 combat missions over Europe and North Africa and 15,000 brave sorties destroyed more than 400 enemy aircraft. 32 became prisoners of war and 66 died protecting our country.
>> Phil Gordon: The governor noted your outstanding and phenomenal record against overwhelming odds. What I remember also reading and studying about is, while that prejudice existed from within, towards the end of the war, as your records were known and proven, there wasn't the bomber that you weren't escorting that ever went down. They all returned and, in fact, your units were asked for to be provided, not asked to go away or not be there.
>> Merry Lucero: The Tuskegee airmen of Arizona are partners with Luke air force base which upholds their legacy.
>> Col. Dave Orr: They are an amazing group of Americans to have overcome insurmountable obstacles to serve in the vocation of preserving our nation's freedom. Every opportunity we get to have the Tuskegee airmen out to Luke brings far reaching results. Because I look in the eyes of our young airmen when they hear Colonel Campbell, preacher Tolliver, colonel Giles and so many other Tuskegee airmen, as they tell their story and I know our Luke airmen grow. They grow as military professionals, as combat warriors and as human beings.
>> Merry Lucero: The Tuskegee airmen and women fought two battles. One against Nazi Germany, the other against racism and hate from within. The Tuskegee airmen of Arizona are finally honored for their bravery, perseverance and strength of character.
>> Steve Goldstein: Joining me now is Clovis Jones junior, president of the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of the Tuskegee airmen organization. We are also honored to 71 of the original Tuskegee airman joining us, Lieutenant Colonel Asa Herring. Thank you very much.
>> Clovis Jones: Thank you.
>> Steve Goldstein: Mr. Jones, give us a brief history lesson. Why is it important to remember the Tuskegee airmen?
>> Clovis Jones: It's important because the Tuskegee experiment was one to prove once and for all that African Americans were inferior, their brain was too small, they would wither in the line of fire, and that all they were good for were service-type jobs and the military. This was even taught in some of our academies, universities and colleges, and even the war department did a study in 1925 stating, and for a fact that African Americans were inferior and were only to be used in service-type missions and combat. The Tuskegee experiment was not supposed to succeed. But what these men and women did was to prove once and for all that sophisticated war machinery could be handled and handled successfully by African Americans, and I might add that that was a hospital, self-contained. In essence we had a black Air Force. With administration, legal, finance, mechanics, radio repairmen, the whole gamut. What was in the larger air force was at Tuskegee. These men and women proved blacks could excel in that and not only there, but once they got into civilian rife they made contributions to this country, and really changed the world. Because, if it had not been for their success, follow-on generations of African Americans would be relegated to the lowest denomination of jobs and opportunities.
>> Steve Goldstein: Lieutenant Colonel Herring, how did you step into that? Why did you want to join the air force at that point?
>> Lt. Col. Asa Herring: I was a young fellow coming along about that era and the war was going on. And everyone was touting the exploits of these fighter pilots here and there, in Europe. And I just wanted to fly. I had always been interested in aviation. And I was so enthused that I went down and volunteered but I had to wait until I was 18 before I was called to active duty.
>> Steve Goldstein: Did you know at the time how important it was that the thing that you were doing, that you were involved in this? Did you feel at the time that there was this Tuskegee experiment that actually wanted to prove you couldn't do it?
>> Lt. Col. Asa Herring: I didn't even realize there was a designated name for this, the Tuskegee experiment. I was going to Tuskegee Institute, in college there, and it had a good aviation program. And that's the reason I became aware of this. But as far as the impact that it has made, I had no idea. I was just trying to do my part just like all the rest of the fellows who were putting forth efforts to win the war against the aggressors.
>> Steve Goldstein: How important was the ceremony last week in Arizona and the ceremony in March, President Bush presided over to present the medals to their families?
>> Clovis Jones: It was very important because it acknowledges the U.S. acknowledged the contributions of these men and women finally. France had done it. England had done it and now America was doing it as the highest civilian award to these airmen. So it's quite significant because they really change the military as well as change the United States.
>> Steve Goldstein: Lieutenant Colonel Herring, how is it to fight for a country, even if you have lived in segregation to some extent, coming from the south, how was it to fight for a country that was not giving you as many opportunities as it was giving someone else?
>> Lt. Col. Asa Herring: I wasn't really aware of the differences at the time. But as time went on, it was fairly evident. But as far as policy concern, what was my real name to get out and fly aircraft and if combat, and so be it.
>> Steve Goldstein: How does it feel for to you have that medal and to finally be acknowledged? Did you feel like long time coming or I'm glad to have it regardless?
>> Lt. Col. Asa Herring: Well, number of people have said, well, it's a long time coming. It really has. But that doesn't diminish the impact of the significance of the award itself. It's a very good thing. I'm just quite pleased. I think everybody is surprised, they weren't aware of this -- that it was coming. But I'm very happy with it. And this is the medal itself.
>> Steve Goldstein: Clovis, we are currently at a war in Iraq. How important is the legacy of the Tuskegee airmen even today?
>> Clovis Jones: Well, and the Tuskegee airmen legacy continues and, in fact, that's why we have these various Tuskegee Airmen Chapters to carry on the legacy. But in Iraq you have the 332nd Expeditionary Wing. And it is almost a microcosm of what the original airmen experiment units were like. There's a hospital, they have F-16 fighters, they have helicopters, inner drones. And they are admin people. So you have a mini air force in the 332nd Wing in Iraq. So that 4-1-1 continues and you have the fighter squadrons that were allocated the Luke Air Force Base. The 302nd is going to be reactivated later this year. And you have the 99th and 100th fighter squadrons that are training squadrons down in Texas. So the Tuskegee airmen legacy is still alive and well in US Air Force today.
>> Steve Goldstein: Briefly, from your perspective, has the air force and the entire military clean upped its act as opposed to how things were 60 years ago?
>> Clovis Jones: We have seen many changes that needed to happen. There still is room for improvement. But it's a night and day difference between the 19 40's and the 20.
>> Steve Goldstein: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for joining us on Horizon tonight.
>> Clovis Jones: Thank you for having us.
>> Mike Sauceda: You have probably heard about the disappearing bees. Theories abound as to why the bees have disappeared. Some experts say it's because of cell phones. Others attributed the loss of bees to a virus or increased UV rays. Learn more about what a local bee keep are thinks about what's making the bees disappear Thursday at 7:00 on horizon.
>> Steve Goldstein: And please be sure to join us on Friday as well on horizon for the weekly journalist roundtable. Thanks for joining us on this Wednesday evening. I'm Steve Goldstein. Hope you have a great night. Thanks for watching.
In this segment:
Dr. Lee Allison:Director, Arizona Geological Survey and state geologist;Clovis Jones Jr:President, Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of the Tuskegee airmen organization;
STAY in touch
Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: