Electricity slowly coming to Freeze residents

By Bill Donovan, Navajo Times, June 21, 2007

WINDOW ROCK - For more years than she can count, Ruth Tohannie has been wanting electricity in her come west of Tuba City.

For decades, this was impossible because her home was within the Bennett Freeze area and no new development was allowed there while the land dispute between the Navajos and the Hopis remained unsettled.

When her lands were removed from the Freeze Area several years ago by court order, she thought it would only be a matter of time before she would get electricity at last.

Tohannie kept getting promise after promise, said Esther Yonnie, her daughter, and each time she got her hopes up only to find that for one reason or another, she still wasn't getting electricity.

Tohannie's home is less than 200 feet from a powerline and she's watched as her neighbors got electricity hook-ups. But the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority continued to bypass her house.

Just recently, her daughter said, she was asked by Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter to sign something the chapter could use to get funding for more electrical hookups. Tohannie refused.

"She's tired of signing papers and not getting anything out of it," Yonnie said.

Just recently, however, Tohannie's hopes were raised again when NTUA officials came by and told her that electricity was on the way and that poles would be dropped off by the end of the month.

"Here it is almost the end of June and we still haven't seen any poles," Yonnie said. "I was so excited I was jumping up and down, all for nothing."

But NTUA officials said the project is still on schedule and that the 20 families within the project should have electricity in June or July.

In the past couple of years, the NTUA and the chapters that were once part of the Bennett Freeze have been quietly working to bring electricity to those families that were deprived of this and other modern conveniences - including running water and indoor plumbing - since the 1970s because of the land dispute.

NTUA just completed a project south of Gap, Ariz., bringing electricity to 23 Navajo families in that area. The agency is now working to complete the project in the Moenave area where Tohannie lives.

Ethelind Jones, NTUA electrical projects coordinator, said about 30 percent of the project is completed. Twenty Navajo families will get residential electric service there, she said.

Once this is completed, NTUA plans to begin a project in the Navajo Springs area within Bodaway/Gap Chapter, which will benefit another 17 Navajo families.

Many of these families have been petitioning NTUA for years to get electricity. Jones said most of the delays have been caused on the chapter level.

All NTUA does is provide electricity from the poles to the homes, she said. It's up to the chapters to secure the funding to get the homes wired up and for many chapters in the western portion of the reservation, this have been one of their top priorities.

Using tribal grants and funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant program, the chapters have steadily been getting the homes wired up.

Priscilla Little, who handles these duties for Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter, said the chapter has a priority list topped by elders and those with medical problems, followed by single-parent families and so on.

Most other chapters use the same priority list, said Jones, which means that there are cases where NTUA may bypass some houses that are not on the priority list.

"For some families, it's a lengthy process," she said.

Eventually, she said, all homes near powerlines will be hooked up.

The problem is that a lot of homes in the remote chapters are far from powerlines and for most of these, the cost to bring electricity is prohibitive.

For these families, Jones said, NTUA has developed another program, hooking up the homes to solar energy generators while they wait for the day when electrical lines reach them.

There is no cost to get onto the solar program but families pay a monthly fee similar to the cost of electric power from an NTUA line. The fee covers the installation costplus maintenance.

Some families, Jones said, have opted not to get solar power.

"There are limitations to the program," she admitted, pointing out that families who depend on solar power have no learn how to conserve energy.

Usually, she said, there is just enough energy stored to run lights for a short period in the evening. It's best to hook up the TV to a car battery, as most families without electricity now do on the reservation.




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html