State ditches tolerant excavation policies

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Those who don’t adhere to the state’s “call-before-you-dig” law could find themselves in deep trouble under a new law.

Starting Tuesday, more stringent fines will be in effect for violators, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission said.

Higher penalties, mandatory damage-reporting and clearer procedures are part of the change in the law approved by the legislature last year at the UTC’s request.

All utilities and anyone excavating, including homeowners, are expected to be affected. Under the new law, excavators — from professionals to home owners — and utilities must report to the UTC any damage to underground facilities within 45 days. Previously only damage to regulated natural gas and hazardous liquid facilities had to be reported.

The law also requires excavators to outline the proposed dig area in white paint before calling for a locate; make arrangements with the affected utilities when projects exceed 700 linear feet; and maintain locate marks for 45 days, after which a new locate must be requested.

For utilities, the law requires mandatory registration with the state one-call center; marking all locatable facilities (including laterals); and providing information to the excavator about unlocatable facilities.

A dispute resolution board will hear complaints of alleged violations of the law and recommend enforcement action to the UTC. The 13-member Washington Dig Law Safety Committee will include representatives from stakeholder groups designated by the legislature.

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, the UTC said.

The law was approved in 2011 but not effective until 2013 to allow for education and preparation.

At least one aspect of the existing law did not change. That’s the requirement that all citizens call for a utility locate at least two business days before digging, including any digging more than 12 inches in a residential yard or garden. Citizens can dial 811 or go online to callbeforeyoudig.org. The call and locate are free. For more details on the new law visit utc.wa.gov/diglaw.

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