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Utilities grant awarded to Yuroks

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

The Yurok Tribe will get $3 million from the federal government to install electricity and phone service to its 135 families currently without these utilities.

"They can't just walk into the house and flip on a switch to make the lights come on," said Liz Murgia of Congressman Mike Thompson's office, which signed a letter of support to help the tribe win the competitive grant.

Many tribe members rely on wood and gas for heating and cooking, according to Tribal Chairperson Sue Masten.

"It is our hope that with power will come opportunities, including economic and social advancement. We look forward to the day when our children can turn off their flashlights they use to do their homework by," Masten said.

The money comes from a program developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for communities with extremely high energy costs.

It will help the tribe buy and install a utility power transmission system throughout the reservation.

Currently, one of the reservation's grade schools, a Head Start facility for preschoolers, several community water systems and two fire stations rely on generators.

Thompson predicted the $3 million, coupled with increased access to a constant source of electricity, would "open the door to improved housing conditions, safe drinking water and telephone service.

The Yurok Tribe has studied how to install an energy transmission system since 1996.

An organization called the Native American Renewable Energy Education Project looked at several ways to provide cheaper and more efficient power than the tribe has come to rely on.

"We help tribal communities make beneficial use of energy efficiency and renewable energy," reads the organization's Web site.

Stretching 45 miles through rugged and largely roadless terrain, the Yurok Reservation has struggled to bolster its community infrastructure.

Masten said the grant and the coming transmission system will also provide infrastructure for a new phone system, both of which are expected to be instrumental in helping the Yurok and Klamath-area economies.

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