SMYRNA — For a week straight, First State linemen are helping shine light on the needy Navajo Nation. A four-member Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation crew has worked 12-hour days and heads home Saturday. Hailing from Smyrna and Milford, the public power utility workers joined the pilot Light up Navajo program bringing power to 300 homes in six weeks.
Sometimes traveling 90 minutes to work a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift, Milford’s Gary Johnston and Rob Palladino and Smyrna’s Joshua Little and Zack Nellams often face rocky terrain that just adds to the challenge. The crew taps a line into a power source, raises a pole and provides electricity to homes mostly one mile away. Some of the other out of state 23 crews bring power to homes 10 miles away. With electricity, there’s no more driving an hour for ice. Powered refrigeration protects food and medicine, especially in storing fresh meat.
“The responses have been overwhelming,” said DEMEC Chief Operating Officer Kimberly Schlichting, who joined the local crew out west in the area of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
“People are overjoyed, they’re crying to finally have electricity.”
Also, Ms. Schlichting said, “One elder said she was looking forward to finally having fresh toast.”
A media attempt to speak with the crew Thursday was unsuccessful due to lack of cell phone connections in the area. The workers can travel to an area hot spot in an emergency, but are mostly out of touch.
DEMEC’s Facebook page has received thousands of responses due to the efforts, which Ms. Schlichting described as an “outpouring of support.”
Overall, 24 utilities from 12 states are taking part from April 7 to May 17.
“We are grateful that these electric line teams have volunteered to travel here to help us with our challenge to extend electric services to homes without,” Navajo Tribal Utility Authority General Manager Walter Haase said. “We are equally appreciative to their communities and families that have supported this effort to help positively change the standard of life for our families who have been waiting years for electricity.”
Including Smyrna and Milford, nine municipal electric utilities are compensating for the missing crew. Other utilities are based in Newark, Middletown, Dover, Seaford, Newark, Clayton and Lewes. “We look after and support each other at all times,” Ms. Schlichting said.
As for the western crew, “I’m extremely proud and so excited for the work they’re doing,” Ms. Schlichting said.
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn about ways to donate go to: www.publicpower.org/donate-light-navajo