28 September, 2010

Call before you dig!

Over 20 years ago, an acquaintance of mine was digging a trench with a backhoe in the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland--when he struck a natural gas line alongside a building.  He miraculously survived the resulting explosion that flipped his machine over backwards, but suffered some second and third degree burns.  The pipeline he hit was an uncharted line run out to a out-building on the same lot.  About ten years later, while trenching for an electrical job, I hit a buried gas pipe to a garage that had been disconnected.  But it made me really think about what happened to my acquaintance.  So the lesson to me here is that all buried utilities work done on a property should have a permit (with a map) registered with the city building department. 
The reason for mapping and permits is to ensure that the work is done to code.  It is an official record of where the utilities are on the property and at what depth.  Don’t believe for a moment that the utilities are buried too deep for you to hit.  Over the years since when a house was built; erosion, landscaping, grading or excavating may have changed the depth at which the utilities lie.  A friend recently found while digging in her front flower beds that her gas line was only six inches under the soil surface. 
Many states have organization to protect the public and utility companies from accidents that can cause disaster.  Formed in the 1970’s, the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (O.U.P.S., yes you can say “OOPS!”) is a nonprofit that serves as a link for utility companies to contractors and residents planning any digging. Though O.U.P.S. does not physically mark lines, they do convey digging and excavation requests to the member network of utilities and underground facility owners. This network includes, but not limited to: TV cable, gas, electrical, water, sewer and phone companies.
In most of my hometown--Cleveland Heights, the buried utilities (gas, water, sewer) enter the front of the property (from the street) and the overhead utilities (electric, phone, cable) enter from the rear.  But that does not hold true for all properties in the city.  A corner property for example, may have some or all the buried utilities coming in from the side of the lot.  Some newer neighborhoods have all of the utilities buried.  It’s quite possible that your neighborhood has a sewer to the rear of the lots as a portion of my street does.
Hey, call before you dig!  An Ohio law says everyone MUST contact O.U.P.S., at least 48 hours but no more than 10 working days (excluding weekends and legal holidays) before beginning any digging or excavation work.  The web address is www.oups.org and the phone number is 1-800-362-2764 or you can just dial 8-1-1. This regulation also applies to smaller or personal projects to include but not limited to digging fencepost holes, anchoring supports for decks and swing sets, planting trees, removing tree roots and driving landscaping or electrical grounding stakes into the ground. For folks outside of Ohio, call your local building department or 'google' the phrase; your state plus "utility protectection service" to find your area service
When you call, the staff person will give a reference number for the job.  Keep this number with your property records so that you can refer to it at a later date as necessary.  It is proof that you made contact with O.U.P.S. and it’s the only way they can look up a past job ticket. 
You will need to indicate the area where you intend to dig. Usually this is done by using white spray paint or white flags to mark the area to be excavated.  Be sure to ask what procedures they want you to follow as things do change over time.  So next time I see my yellow lab digging in the yard, I’ll guess I’ll have to ask him if he has his O.U.P.S. ticket to start the job.
The O.U.P.S. logo and name are trademarks of the Ohio Utilities Protection Service.