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Morenci Water and Electric crews working on installing electric wiring underground on Chase Creek back in August. 

It’s official. Chase Creek Street will have new light poles after the Clifton town council voted 6-1 on Wednesday to purchase 16 light poles and move forward with installing them along the historic street.

Phoenix-based Consolidated Electrical Distributors was awarded the contract to supply and ship the poles to Clifton at a total cost of $92,583.

Money for the project is coming from funds provided to the town from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Highway User Revenue Fund.

Morenci Water and Electric has agreed to install the poles for free once they’re delivered, said Rudy Perez, Clifton’s town manager, as a part of their project to install underground electric wiring on Chase Creek Street.

The poles should be delivered to the town in eight to 10 weeks and installed in January, Perez said.

Officially called the Chase Creek Street Tomorrow Lighting Project, the project has caused some controversy among some Clifton residents over whether the kinds of lighting fixtures the council chose to put up will put Chase Creek’s official historic status from the Arizona State Parks State Historic Preservation Office in jeopardy.

Monica Miller, the owner of Studio 226 on Chase Creek Street said last month she’s concerned the new lights aren’t tied to the historical aesthetics of the lights that once were on the street and that installing them will not only jeopardize the historic status of the street, but will also jeopardize business owners on the street’s ability to apply for and receive grants to do restorations and other projects.

In emails exchanged between Eric Vondy, the State Historic Preservation Office’s preservation program manager and town representatives, Vondy said the lights will be met with “frowning disapproval” by the preservation office, but it will not trigger any more serious actions against the town, or the street’s historic status.

Councilmember Barbara Waddell Reyes, the only council member to dissent from the council’s vote, said adding the new lights to Chase Creek will alter the street irreparably and open the door for not only business owners on the street to alter historic buildings however they’d like, but also leave the town open to harsher retaliation from the State Historic Preservation Office if another administrator of the office takes over in the future and disagrees with the views of the current administrator.

“It’s a rough old town. It has a lot of character, we shouldn’t try to modernize it,” Waddell Reyes said.

Waddell Reyes said she wants the town to respect and honor that rough and tumble history of the town, the unique architecture of the street and its multicultural history. The new lights, she said, don’t represent or fit in with that history.

More than that though, Waddell Reyes said she wanted to see the council use the money from ADOT to repair roads in town and she wants the council to be more transparent and open when they’re in the process of making important decisions.

“It is upsetting to me, because I don’t like doing things that are stupid or incorrect,” said Waddell Reyes.

“I thought we still had a chance to see if we could reconsider the lights they were going to use, but they made their minds up and passed it right along,” Miller said.

Miller said she too wants to see the money used for repairing roads and pavement around town. She also wants the council to be more open and friendly to community members.

At the meeting, Miller said she felt intimidated and discouraged from speaking by Mayor Luis Montoya.

When reached for comment, Montoya declined to respond.

Miller said she’s going to try to keep making Clifton a better place and get more involved in the town’s decision making process.

Business owners are more excited about the Morenci Water and Electric project than the controversy over the lights.

Theresa Greenwell, the owner of The Headframe Apothecary and the Chase Creek Boarding House, said she is happy to be rid of the overhead power lines which are preventing her from being able paint the front of her business.

“What I love is that the electrical is going underground,” said Jeff Gaskin, owner of The Union Hall and the Galleria Historic Inn and Art Gallery. “I’m just happy that we are where we are.”

Gaskin said the overhead power lines on Chase Creek drape so low that it prevents him from using the Galleria’s balcony. With underground electric utilities coming to the street in the near future, he’s excited to be able to use that balcony soon.

He’s also excited about all the other projects going on on Chase Creek to improve the street. Once those are done, he thinks the street will soon attract businesses and tourists to downtown Clifton.

“There’s so many positive things going on Chase Creek,” Gaskin said. “I’m happy to see Clifton moving forward.”

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