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New State Law Prompts You To Think Before You Dig In 2013

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commision says excavators and utilities must report any damage to underground facilities within 45 days. Multiple violations within a three-year period could result in $5,000 fines.

Beginning Jan. 1, utilities, excavators, and the public will see more rigorous enforcement of the state’s “call-before-you-dig” law, including higher penalties, mandatory damage-reporting and clearer procedures.

The new law, passed by the Washington Legislature last year at the request of the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), affects all utilities and anyone excavating, including homeowners. The changes are intended to improve communication between both groups and ultimately decrease damage to underground utilities and pipelines.

Under the new law, excavators and utilities must report to the UTC any damage to underground facilities within 45 days. Previously, only damage to regulated natural gas and hazardous liquid facilities had to be reported.

In addition, the new law requires excavators to:

  • Outline the proposed dig area in white paint prior to calling for a locate;
  • Make arrangements with the affected utilities when projects exceed 700 linear feet; and
  • Maintain locate marks for 45 days, after which a new locate must be requested.

Key changes for utilities include:

  • Mandatory registration with the state one-call center;
  • Marking all locatable facilities (including laterals); and
  • Providing information to the excavator about unlocatable facilities.

The new law created a dispute resolution board which will hear complaints of alleged violations of the law and recommend enforcement action to the UTC. This group, called the Washington Dig Law Safety Committee (safety committee), will comprise of 13 members all whom represent stakeholder groups designated by the Legislature. The safety committee is also charged with advising the state on best practices and training to prevent damage to underground facilities and enhance public safety.

The new law increases penalties from $1,000 per violation to $1,000 for an initial violation and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations within a three-year period. A party that fails to request a locate and damages an hazardous liquid or gas transmission pipeline will be subject to a $10,000 penalty and may be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

The law, passed in 2011, was the result of a two-year effort by the UTC, legislators, industry, local governments, and other stakeholders. The law’s effective date was set for Jan. 1, 2013 to allow for education and preparation to implement the law successfully.

The law did not change the current requirement that all citizens call for a utility locate at least two business days prior to digging, including any digging more than 12 inches in a residential yard or garden. Any citizen can dial 8-1-1 or go online to www.callbeforeyoudig.org. Both the call and the locate are free.

More information about Washington’s dig law can be found on the UTC’s website, www.utc.wa.gov/diglaw.

The UTC regulates the rates and services of telecommunications companies; investor-owned electric utilities, natural gas and water companies; garbage-collection haulers; residential moving and charter-bus companies; and commercial ferries. The UTC’s pipeline safety program performs inspections regularly on the state’s 31 operators.

-Washington Utilities and Transportation Commision

Klondiko December 29, 2012 at 06:00 PM
The state needs to force the telephone companies to do a faster job of responding to citizen requests. Everyone else seems to be fine at least in my experience.
dexterjibs December 30, 2012 at 06:58 AM
How about the State and Federal government and the United Nations force telephone companies to have a representative on every customers front step just in case something happens. After all, isn't it the governments job to fix every wrong in the world today.
J Miller January 04, 2013 at 08:28 PM
Concur with the 1st commentator, I call every single time I dig per the directive. Person who takes the call has bitches @ me. With comments like "we were there 6 months ago." Then I'm told I have to wait longer then 'callbforeyoudig,' line says in text it will be done. Feel harassed by complying with the law as I was told, "We can't come out every 6 months." Every time, I've called they tell me when they have been out before even if it's 2 years. They read off the entire list.
Utility locator January 05, 2013 at 06:05 AM
The phone company is not responsible for the locates themselves but have hired a contractor to locate their lines for them. They have hired a few companies to do this over the last 30 years. If a locate is not completed on time or completely a call to the contractor and the phone company should be made and a complaint filed. I have been a utility locator for five years and have located all the major utilities and one thing I must stress is that our work loads very from day to day. One day we many have twenty stops or ten but within those stops we may be required to mark out several thousands of feet of utilities based on what has been requested. Prior to the new changes some people would call in locate requests for a few feet to 48 miles, yes 48 miles! Everyone expects to have their locates done within the two days but due to no limits on the distance and the varying work load this just isn't always possible. It has been many years since I have located phone but it can be one of the more time consuming and tougher utilities to locate. I just hope that with these new laws having come into affect that our jobs will become easier with clearer instructions on what is requested and a limitation on the distance that a single locate ticket can contain. This would go a long way in improving the speed at which we reach locates and even the quality of work as we would not be as rushed to move onto the next job.

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