Law Puts Muscle Behind Utility Location Rules

Fri June 17, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

City and county governments in Georgia will soon be held accountable for lack of cooperation under an amendment to the Georgia Utility Facility Protection Act signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in May.

“This is a monumental event for us,” said Vikki McReynolds, executive director of the Georgia Utility Contractor Association (GUCA).

The organization has been fighting for an amendment to the act for two years that would fine a city or county government that does not assist a contractor in the search for underground utility lines.

It has been mandatory that governments assist diggers since the original law was passed in the mid-1980s, but it has not allowed for penalties until now.

McReynolds admits getting this legislation passed was not an easy task, as some of GUCA’s demands were fought by city and county governments, as well as utility companies.

This amendment will really come into play with sewer laterals, McReynolds said. Cities and counties tend to be hesitant to mark these lines, since most are located on private property.

While the law now forces the local government agencies to help mark the lines, it does not imply they own the line and cannot be held liable if they assist in its marking.

This new piece of the law was sparked by a Clinton County accident in which a digger hit a sewer lateral causing an explosion. McReynolds said that dig was considered legal since the contractor waited a certain amount of time before proceeding with the work.

McReynolds said three GUCA members, Mark Accetturo of Reynolds Inc., Bill Hussey of Southern Champion Construction Inc. and Ronny Jones of Ronny D. Jones Enterprises Inc. led the charge in getting this legislation passed.

Getting to Work Sooner

Another change to the act allows contractors to proceed with the work as soon as all the utilities have been marked. Previously, they had to wait 48 hours before getting started.

Should contractors have issues getting a utility marked in a specified amount of time, they now have the legal right to get it marked themselves and then bill the owner of the utility.

Both of these provisions are beneficial to the contractor and the property owner because of the time saved by not having to wait for others to perform their duties before digging can begin, McReynolds said.

Additionally, the new law allows for permanent markers for water and sewer lines.

Advisory Committee

Scott Brumbelow, GUCA’s assistant executive director, also noted the advisory committee, a group of industry professionals who make recommendations to the Public Service Commission when a violation of the dig law has been made, has been given more power.

It has also been expanded to include three more excavators.

He said the commission has rarely disagreed with the advisory committee, but the law now provides a stronger backing to the recommendations.

HDD Defined

With the growing number of contractors using horizontal directional drilling, the legislature decided to define this way of installing utility lines and ensure contractors use “additional care,” McReynolds said.

State law now demands contractors using HDD follow good-practice guidelines set by a national consortium.

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