Westwater gets boost from Legislature
Before COVID-19 there was the Westwater Subdivision near Blanding, Utah.
Just before COVID-19 struck the Navajo Nation and showed the rest of the country the lack of basic necessities such as electricity and running water on the reservation, it was Westwater garnering media attention, a subdivision only a few miles from Blanding, Utah, that does not have electricity or running water.
But that may not be true for long. On Monday it was announced the Utah Legislature approved $500,000 in the state’s FY 2022 budget to bring the Navajo Nation a step closer to providing much-needed electricity for 27 Navajo families in the 120-acre area.
“You can see the community of Westwater and the first thing that is noticeable is there isn’t power lines, no streetlights,” said Pamela King, a Westwater land owner, during a January 2020 interview with the Times.
“I know for the most part, the rest of the Navajo Nation is in the same state of having no electricity or water,” she said, “but what makes Westwater unique is it’s not far from Blanding. Children can see lawns being watered with sprinklers, they see the streetlights, the paved roads.”
Last year, King, her mother Evangeline Gray, and other Westwater residents advocated at the Utah Legislature for the $500,000 appropriation to help the community.
The $500,000 will just be seed money for the project, estimated to cost approximately $1.5 million.
“We are hopeful that, should the state come to the table with the $500,000 appropriation, other sources including the Utah Navajo Trust Fund can be combined and that we can ultimately access funding sufficient to complete Phase 1,” said Utah State Treasurer David C. Damschen in an email to the Times last year.
Once access to electricity is established, water infrastructure development, or Phase 2, can be pursued with the likely assistance of federal funds and other sources. Phase 2’s cost is currently estimated at approximately $1.9 million, he said.
Purchased by the Navajo Nation in 1986, Westwater is on 120 acres of “fee simple” land. Fee simple land is essentially private land with property taxes going to San Juan County to provide services.
The land status creates jurisdictional issues as to which government is required to provide services to the community, according to the citizens’ group Utah Diné Bikeyah.
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority is currently working with Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the city of Blanding on a proposed plan to extend powerline infrastructure from Blanding’s electric system to the Westwater Subdivision.
The $500,000 was secured last year for power-line extensions; however the funds were withdrawn by the state to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Jonathan Nez said restoration of the funds in this year’s state budget will help develop the three-phase power line to a water well and a single-phase power line distribution to the subdivision.
On Feb. 24, Nez, Speaker Seth Damon and Delegate Nathaniel Brown met with Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and advocated for the restoration of the funding.
“I appreciate Gov. Cox, Lt. Gov. Henderson, the Utah state legislators, and Utah Division of Indian Affairs Director Dustin Jansen’s commitment to support the Westwater Subdivision,” stated Nez.