Unless you want that new Japanese Maple sapling or mailbox post to cost you thousands of extra dollars and introduce you to your new cellmate “Tiny”, read on. Just this month an Iowa man who didn’t bother to check for underground utilities before landscaping was fined $5,000. While attempting to install drainage tile, he damaged a four inch natural gas line. Luckily the leak did not result in an explosion but emergency response teams had to be dispatched and service was disrupted for much of his neighborhood. This was just one of seven such lawsuits filed recently by the attorney general in Iowa for digging without checking with utilities companies. The grounds of America are crisscrossed with an array of pipelines, conduits, wires and cables. This underground infrastructure is often overlooked by do-it-yourselfers and professionals alike when undertaking projects that require a bit of digging.
Not only is blindly digging a poor idea, it’s against the law. Every job that requires digging, even small projects like mailboxes, trees, hedges and water features need to be cleared in advance. Failure to do so can result in fines, repair costs and legal damages to say nothing of the harm it can cause to others or their property (including public property).
A new, federally-mandated national “Call Before You Dig” number was created to help protect you from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines while working on digging projects. This is a free service to get your underground utilities marked with color coded paint and flags:
According to the call before you dig website, when you dial 811, your call is forwarded to the One Call Center in your area for processing. Local One Call Center operators record the location of the dig and then notify the affected utility companies of your digging plans. Your utility companies then dispatch a professional locating crew to mark the approximate location of your lines within a few days.
Each state has different rules and regulations governing digging, some stricter than others. This information as well as links to submit an online digging request for some eligible areas can be found here. Build these extra days into your project timeline. If you’re working with a contractor, be sure they’re on top of the situation as well.