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Light Up Navajo was established in 2018 with coordination from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and members of the American Public Power Association — to which the Village of Yellow Springs belongs. (Submitted photo)

Yellow Springs Public Works employees to bring power to Navajo Nation

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Several Village utility workers have hit the road. Their destination: the Navajo Nation.

Participating in the “Light Up Navajo” mutual aid initiative are five Yellow Springs Public Works employees who, along with many other utility workers from municipalities across the nation, will connect Native American residents living without power to an electrical grid for the first time.

Who left for the southwest on Friday, June 7, were Yellow Springs Electric/Water Superintendent Ben Sparks, Foreman Tanner Bussey, Lineman Lane Dykeman, Apprentice Lineman Alex Kraus and Groundman Lucas Valley.

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The five-man team will spend a week near Fort Defiance, Arizona, within the Navajo Nation, volunteering their efforts to erect power poles, run lines and, ultimately, illuminate the homes of some Indigenous people.

“Personally, I love helping people,” Superintendent Sparks told the News this week. “That’s why I’m in this line of work. I love answering the call — no matter who or when it is — and doing what needs to be done. This trip is doing just that, but going the extra mile. No pun intended.”

Light Up Navajo was established in 2018 with coordination from the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and members of the American Public Power Association — to which the Village of Yellow Springs belongs. While the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority has, over the past 10 years, electrified over 6,400 homes within the reservation, there remain over 14,000 residences without electricity, according to a recent press release from Light Up Navajo.

Approximately 75% of all U.S. households without power live in the Navajo Nation — that is, the 27,000-square-mile region that spans parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

This year, the five Yellow Springs Public Works crew members are among crews representing 41 municipalities from 16 different states working towards the goal of electrifying around 300 homes over the course of 13 weeks this summer.

“We’re pretty pumped to do this,” Sparks said. “I think this shows that Public Works is committed to living our Village’s core values: extending a helping hand in a time of need.”

The plan upon arrival, Sparks said, is to rise early and work late each day. His crew will be under the hot desert sun for the duration of the week — within view of Arizona’s iconic Window Rock — doing what they do here in Yellow Springs: building reliable and lasting infrastructure. Sparks said they’ll follow an interpreter who speaks both English and the indigenous Navajo language, going into people’s homes and giving them power — light, access to refrigeration, cooling and more.

Though the Village crew’s efforts will benefit those without, Sparks said he’s looking forward to the experience and knowledge he and his men will gain from this trip.

“It’s going to be a challenge to learn to meet the specifications of a place so different,” he said. “We know what to do in Yellow Springs and what our needs are here, but I think we’re going to come back smarter and better because of this. We’ll be able to learn the trade better.”

Sparks acknowledged that this trip is the culmination of many local groups coming together to support the Village’s Public Works team. Beyond American Municipal Power paying for the five plane tickets, lodging and car rentals, Sparks said it’s because of the now-robust utility department that freed him and his men to step away from Yellow Springs for a week.

“If we didn’t have a Council that believed in us, this opportunity wouldn’t have been available to us. Plus, [Village Manager] Johnnie Burns not only believes in us who are going out there, but also in the staff that’s staying behind to complete any daily task, goal or challenge.”

He added: “We’ve got everything covered. Being able to do this is a testament to having the right people in the right positions.”

As Burns told Council members at the group’s most recent meeting on Monday, June 3 — when Sparks and his five-man team were showered with applause from Council and those in attendance — local residents will eventually be able to see firsthand the efforts and results of the volunteer trip. From video footage from Sparks’ aerial drone and cameras affixed to all five helmets, Burns said that the Village intends to compile a video highlighting the crew’s work upon their return.

“You’ll be able to see what our village is all about,” Burns told Council.

The News will follow up with Sparks and his crew when they return from the Navajo Nation in mid-June.


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