EDITORIAL: Call 811 before you dig

Too many Fresnans risk death, disruption and a big repair bill.

FresnoMarch 7, 2014 

Pacific Gas & Electric crews work on a gas leak in Fresno last year that could have been avoided with a telephone call.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA/THE FRESNO BEE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

The good news is that the California and San Joaquin Valley economies are rebounding. This means that construction companies are rehiring and working on more projects.

The bad news is, before they dig, too many contractors and even homeowners don't call 811 to find out if utility lines are buried in their project areas.

What's the saying? Out of sight, out of mind.

With utility lines — natural gas, electricity, communications, water — in the ground, some people forget about them.

Others know the risk, and bring out the shovel or fire up the backhoe, anyway. What are the odds, right?

Well, you have a far greater chance of striking a line and causing a disruption in service — or much worse — than you do of winning the lottery.

According to the Pacific Gas & Electric Co., its Fresno Division experienced 127 gas line dig-ins last year. The Yosemite Division, which includes Madera and Merced counties, had 170. Kern County had 54.

Sacramento had the highest number, with 262. San Francisco had 101 and San Jose 100.

The Humboldt Division experienced only 35 dig-ins.

Dig-ins can be expensive to the people and companies that do them. In a recent Editorial Board meeting, PG&E officials said that the company is more aggressive about collecting the costs for repairs from dig-ins than it was in the past.

PG&E says that the most common type of dig-in is when commercial customers hit a distribution gas pipe. There were 1,225 of these dig-ins in the company's service area in 2013, with an average cost of about $4,100.

The highest cost was $146,992 when a 2-inch gas main was hit near a refinery, causing outages and relights to 200 customers.

Residential dig-ins are common, too. There were 405 residential service dig-ins last year across the PG&E service area, with an average cost of $2,022.

Fresnans might remember last March when a contractor punched through a 6-inch steel transmission line on Shaw Avenue and Sixth Street.

The Sacramento contractor had not used the 811 "Call Before You Dig Service," according to PG&E. That dig-in, which released natural gas, disrupted traffic and business for about 24 hours. The cost was $292,839.

So call 811. The service is available from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, except for holidays.

All utilities then have two business days to locate and mark underground lines where you will be working.

This applies to homeowners putting in sprinklers or planting a tree, too.

It's better to take the time to be safe instead of risking injury and death to yourself and others. And getting hit with a big bill.

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