Digging Can Be Risky

The topic here is not prospecting for gold or digging wells for oil; it’s the everyday activities of utility crews, homeowners, contractors – almost everyone when they pick up a shovel (or operate a backhoe) and dig deeper than 12 inches. Washington’s “call before you dig” statutes were substantially amended in 2011, with the changes going into effect on January 1, 2013. (See Laws of 2011, ch. 263.) You need to know how the changes will impact you, both as a local government employee and as a homeowner.

The 8-1-1 “call before you dig” statutes, chapter 19.122 RCW, apply to state government and to all units of local government in the State of Washington. The enhanced marking requirements are now backed up by hefty fines, sometimes trebled, for anyone who doesn’t comply, whether they are the owner/operator of the underground utility lines or a contractor or homeowner (such as when installing fence posts or planting trees) who is digging deeper than 12 inches. And local government utility crews doing maintenance on their own facilities are required to call 8-1-1. Just because you (think you) “know” where the pipes and conduits are located doesn’t mean you are exempt from the “one number locator” call requirements.

The new provisions in the law include a requirement that those who intend to dig must mark the boundary of the excavation area with white paint. After marking the intended excavation area and calling 8-1-1, owners/operators of underground facilities must go to the excavation site within two business days and mark the location of their underground facilities. RCW 19.122.030.

There are also new notice provisions for local governments whenever they issue a permit for excavation within 100 feet of a hazardous liquid or natural gas transmission pipeline.  RCW 19.122.033.

Local government agencies that issue permits for excavation or construction should inform everyone about the “call before you dig” requirements. Do your permits contain language concerning “call before you dig”?

To help educate utility owners and excavators, MRSC and the Pipeline Safety Division of the WUTC will hold a webinar on October 2nd.

About Jim Doherty

Jim has 19 years of experience researching and responding to varied legal questions at MRSC. He updates MRSC’s Public Records Act publication and has special expertise in transmission pipeline planning issues.
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