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Free propane refills part of coronavirus response effort in Navajo communities

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SANOSTEE — When the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company started a free service to provide propane to community members on the Navajo Nation, the company did not expect it to be a sought-after need.

"We're finding it's an essential service. We use it for heat, we use it for cooking, we use it for heating water," Bill McCabe, community relations officer for NNOGC, said.

"We don't have electricity or natural gas service to all our residents. This is just our way of trying to make sure everyone has what they need through this period," McCabe said about the impact of the coronavirus on communities.

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Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company and Nations Gas Technologies Inc. organized a free propane refill service for community members on May 8 at the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter house in Sanostee.

The tribal enterprise teamed with Nations Gas Technologies Inc., a Navajo-owned business that offers propane and natural gas service and products, for the program, designed mainly to assist the elderly.

"Again, it was to service those people in the community during this period of hardship," McCabe said.

The work is part of the overall $300,000 in goods and services NNOGC has donated to communities to alleviate pressure on families to follow stay at home orders issued by tribal and state governments because of the public health emergency.

The latest distribution was setup at the Tsé Alnaozt'i'í Chapter house on May 8 in Sanostee.

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A line of pickup trucks stretched for several miles on Navajo Route 34 before the 10 a.m. start time.

A propane tank is fitted on May 8 with a sleeve during the free propane refill service by Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company and Nations Gas Technologies Inc. in Sanostee.

Sanostee resident JP Frank uses propane for cooking purposes because his home lacks natural gas service due to its location at the base of Ch'ooshgai Mountain.

Frank said he appreciates the free service because it keeps his family home. Otherwise, they would drive to Farmington to refill the 40-pound tank.

"And saves us some money too," he said.

Fred Canyon drove from Two Grey Hills to refill the 100-pound tank that serves his home.

"It's very important. My wife uses it a lot for selling biscuits and to cook for the family," Canyon said about propane. He added his wife has paused selling food because of the pandemic.

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Refills were completed with no contact between personnel from the two companies and community members, who stayed in their trucks while workers unloaded and reloaded the receptacles.

Tonya Fusion, construction labor supervisor for Nations Gas Technologies Inc., refills a tank with propane during a free event to provide the service on May 8 in Sanostee.

After tanks were filled, community members moved to a separate area to secure the containers before leaving the chapter house area.

Throughout the process, the chapter's authorized local emergency response team and volunteers reminded community members to wear face coverings and to remain inside their trucks for safety reasons.

Prior to Sanostee, the service was provided in the Arizona communities of Kinlichee, Sanders, Wide Ruins and Steamboat. It will be offered on May at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter house and on May 13 and 15 at the Tó Nanees Dizí Chapter house in Tuba City, Arizona. All dates start at 10 a.m.

"When we were in Sanders, the first person in line said they were there at 6 a.m.," Nations Gas Technologies Propane Manager Stacey Whitegoat said.

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An average of 120 tanks are filled at each location and containers can range in size from 20 to 100 pounds, she said.

McCabe said the chapters determine the process for receiving free propane and because response has been high, NNOGC will continue the service and schedule the next round of communities.

"We deliver on Monday, Wednesday (and) Friday, so we'll continue for the next five weeks. It's going to extend well into June," he said.

Volunteer Trey Dahozy carries a sign on May 8 to remind people to wear face coverings during a free service to refill propane tanks in Sanostee.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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