Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 55 seconds
I discovered a situation that brings the safety of digging, even after Digline is notified 2 days in advance into question. The assumption I was under is that once the utilities are located it is safe to dig. By Idaho Law, you are obligated to notify Digline if you are digging over 15 inches into the ground. They are a dispatch service that sends a third party line locating company and uses a specific color code to identify what is there. I was under the pleasant assumption that, as their logo says, the 811 folks called Digline were going to let me know what’s below before I started digging.
Here is the Idaho Law; Chapter 22 Section 55-2201-55-2210 (with amendments effective 7-1-2002) LEGISLATIVE INTENT. It is the intent of this legislature in enacting this chapter to assign responsibilities for locating and keeping accurate records of underground facility locations, for protecting and repairing damage to existing underground facilities, and for protecting the public health and safety from interruption in service caused be damage to existing underground facilities (1991)
I contacted Digline and set up an appointment to locate an area that I was planning on digging. I knew there were underground power, gas, and telephone lines in the yard. A fellow named Dustin Emmen, an Ada Supervisor from ELM, arrived and did the locating while I watched. He was visibly uncomfortable being observed, they prefer being stealthy. When it came to locating Idaho Power he wrote NO IP which means (No Idaho Power) He sprayed it on the ground right where I was digging. “Hold on,” I said, “the house is not magically powered,” “there is power in the ground, please locate it!” He refused and made a snide comment about “turning off the breakers before we dig.” It turns out that this rude individual was just doing his job. Despite being a complete ass who had the equipment on him to locate the burred power lines, he has no obligation to do so.
For an extra $50 he would, but he was too busy to do it right then. He explained that there was too much liability to just locate the line without having me fill out lots of paperwork. Too much liability I thought, what about the liability, he had just uncured by writing NO IP when there was definitely power in the ground? I gathered my things and headed off to untangle this situation with more intelligent folks.
One would assume that when you do your due diligence and follow the law that you would be safe to dig. Turns out nothing could be further from the truth. I understand that water lines, and sewer lines are not located but power is a different animal. It could kill you and do thousands of dollars of damage. This led me on a quest to find some answers and a way to fix the problem or at least get the word out.
Is Digline a farce? Why bother to have them come out if they don’t / won’t clear an area to dig? Should I just contract with a line locating company that can do the work once and be done with it? Digline is a free service, so I guess you get what you pay for.
Here is what I learned.
Turns out Idaho Power has responsibility to protect their lines up to the mast head, and then you are on your own. Idaho Power agrees that it is bad PR when folks get electrocuted, just like the gas company agrees it is bad PR to have houses and city blocks blown up with natural gas leaks. The problem is that there is a shift towards moving power to underground and there needs to be a paradigm shift in Idaho Power’s thinking. It is my belief that even though technically their duty ends at the mast head, they should pay to have the underground wires located in situations like this.
ELM and other companies that provide similar services through the Digline legislation should provide the consumers like myself information about what they have done as well as what they have not done to protect us from potential life threatening situations. They should leave a warning sign if nothing else.
After interviewing my excavator, Glen Young reports that a thousand others and I have complained about the same thing. “It makes a really big BOOM!@#$* when you hit underground Power lines!” “Oh, they (the line locators) have the equipment and the ability to locate the lines they just aren’t getting paid to do it by Idaho Power so they skip that part.”
In the words of a favorite movie of mine.
You’re completely on your own… If you get in trouble…we don’t know you. If one of you should die…it is up to the rest of you to dispose of the body…So, don’t get caught…and don’t die…”
Rod Steiger -Sword of Gideon
At the end of the day, nothing has changed yet. Digging underground, even after “Line Locating” has been done, could kill you and cause thousands of dollars in damage. There is no fail-safe. Underground lines can be dug up and damaged even if they are located. Once they are hit, expect an investigation into whose fault it was, and a hefty bill. Sadly, the wheels of change are rusty and difficult to move.
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