By CRISTIN REECE
Don’t you just hate it when you’re getting ready to plant your new fruit tree and in the process of digging its hole, you take out your own phone line? Or how about when your neighbor’s putting in a new deck and knocks out the entire neighborhood’s cable service — right before your favorite show? Not to mention the dangers of accidentally hitting a buried power line or natural gas pipe.
Fortunately, there’s a number for that. Atmos Energy Corporation, Oncor Electric Delivery, Zito Media Co., the city of Palestine and utilities across the nation are using Sunday, the date of which is 8-11, to remind homeowners and other do-it-yourselfers to call 8-1-1 before you dig — it’s the law, and it’s free.
“Safety is our number one priority, for our employees and for the general public,” Oncor Area Manager Brenda Walker said. “It might not happen everyday and we try to get repairs made as quickly as possible, but the danger and inconvenience factors are what makes us really want to underline the importance of making this very simple, easy and free phone call before they start any excavation project.”
John McDill, Atmos Energy vice president of pipeline safety, stated in a release from the company, “It’s the law in every state we serve, from Colorado to Kentucky. The 8-1-1 program can save you time and money as well as prevent threats to life and property.
“Even minor damage such as a gouge, scrape, dent, or crease to a pipeline or its coating may cause a leak or failure. To protect pipelines and other underground facilities, the law requires that all excavators call 8-1-1 between two and 10 days before excavation work begins on public or private property.”
All a homeowner has to do is call 8-1-1 within 10 days before the beginning of any project requiring digging. The website, www.call811.com, lists installing a mailbox, building a deck, planting a tree or laying a patio as examples of digging projects that need a call before starting. Professional locators are sent to mark the locations of underground utility lines, usually with flags or spray paint.
“Tell the operator where you’re planning to dig, what type of work you will be doing and your affected local utilities companies will be notified about your intent to dig,” the program’s website states. “In a few days, they’ll send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables, so you’ll know what’s below — and be able to dig safely.”
Palestine Utility Director Robert Sedgwick said while the city’s employees are required to call 8-1-1 before their projects, the national number doesn’t include municipalities among the utilities that receive notice of an 8-1-1 call, so it’s also a good idea to call the local water department before any digging begins.
“We’re always willing to work with homeowners to find where their water and sewer lines are located,” Sedgwick said. “Most times locating lines on private property is tricky, since we wouldn’t have records on those lines, but we can always help give property owners a good idea where they may be so they can avoid accidentally damaging them — especially since the owner is liable for the cost of repairing any damage done to utility lines on their property.”
The national 8-1-1 program was born, thanks to the efforts of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a coalition of 400 excavators, locators, road builders, electric, telecommunications, oil, gas, railroad, one call centers, public works, equipment manufacturing and suppliers, state regulators, insurance and engineering/design and emergency services.
“Officially formed in 2000, CGA represents a continuation of the United States Department of Transportation’s Common Ground Study, which highlighted the need for one organization to continuously update best practices among the growing underground utility industry,” the website states. “The Common Ground Alliance was thus formed to prevent damages to underground infrastructure, reduce service disruptions, save lives, and improve safety practices industry-wide. The CGA’s mission is to prevent damage to underground infrastructure.”