Expect stronger enforcement of "call-before-you-dig" law

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission says it will beef up enforcement of the state’s “call-before-you-dig” law beginning Jan. 1, including higher penalties, mandatory damage-reporting and clearer procedures for utilities, excavators and the public.

The new law, passed by the Washington Legislature last year at the request of the Utilities and Transportation Commission, affects all utilities and anyone doing excavation work, including homeowners. The changes are intended to improve communication between state and citizen, and ultimately decrease damage to underground utilities and pipelines.

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

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.

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.
– 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).
– Providing information to the excavator about unlocatable facilities.

The new law created a dispute resolution board that 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, will be made up of 13 members representing stakeholder groups designated by the state 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 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.

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