Call before digging, it’s safer, maybe even cheaper

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

So you’re going to dig a hole for a fence post or plant a tree.

That’s great. But you better know what’s buried there before you start digging.

To dig or not to dig is less a philosophical question than simply keeping life and limb intact by avoiding electrocution or gas explosion from buried power and natural gas lines.

And having a good idea of what utility lines are beneath your shovel can be a lot easier on your pocketbook as well.

If you don’t take the proper precautions you may have to shell out damages if you break something. That’s important to know because nowadays there is an increasing number of pipes and cables, sometimes a virtual maze, under our streets and sidewalks. They spill over into your yard.

The best insurance policy is a free telephone call that will result in appropriate utilities marking the locations of their water pipes, gas lines and power cables.

It’s part of a single call-before-you-dig system (1-800-424-5555). Utilities pool their resources to create a center to receive advanced notification of digging projects 12 inches deep or more. The call is free, and so is the visit.

That’s why you frequently see various color markings on street and sidewalk surfaces indicating what’s down there.

There are several one-call numbers in various parts of the state, but by the end of this year the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is supposed to come up with a single statewide number.

Utilities started the one-call clearinghouse in the 1970s to help reduce damage from digging projects.

Utilities have two business days to tell you whether they have any buried utilities in the vicinity by marking the area with color-coded paint.

Calling protects you from financial liability if there is a mistake and you break a line. Nothing will protect you from injury if you cut a dangerous line such as power or gas, however.

GTE Northwest and Puget Sound Energy will come onto your property to mark, while many other utilities will mark only in the public right of way.

If you do make a mistake on your own property, however, you may be able to claim damages for repairs on your homeowner insurance, said Bill Stevenson, spokesman for the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

"Insurance covers us against the vagaries of life, the unintentional mistakes," Stevenson said. "There’s no stupidity exclusion."

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