One-Call Regulatory Updates

The nation’s One-Call system is considered a vital element in on-going efforts to prevent damage to buried pipes and cables – a telephone call to 8-1-1 rings the nearest state One-Call center which arranges for utility providers who are members to locate and mark buried lines at a specified construction site.

One toll-free number reaches call centers in all parts of the country, but each operates under laws of the state in which it is located, and One-Call regulations differ widely from state to state.

Understanding One-Call procedures and regulations in the state where excavation is to be performed is essential, but those laws are not static and as efforts to protect buried facilities accelerate, those laws are changing, often becoming more stringent.

For that reason a session covering regulatory updates has been included in the Damage Prevention and Safety (DP&S) track of the annual Underground Construction Technology International Conference & Exposition (UCT). The presentation was prepared by industry consultant Walt Kelly.

Kelly has compiled information from the 2014 presentation into a written report, One-Call Legislation Survey 2014. The report covers legislation changes made during 2013, laws pending in 2014 and proposed legislation on hold.

Surveyed for the report were state Offices of Pipeline Safety, One-Call notification centers and existing state statutes.

“Organizations involved in underground construction should be aware of state One-Call laws and regulations,” said Kelly. “However, those laws must be monitored because many changes are being made, proposed and awaiting legislative action.

“In addition, contractors need to understand One-Call laws in each state where they are working and be aware of changes that may be coming so they can be prepared to comply.”

The One-Call Legislation Survey 2014 provides a concise summary of this essential information. Surveys for the report found 11 states enacted new legislation, 15 states are preparing proposed legislation or proposed changes are pending, and three states have placed legislative changes on hold. The District of Columbia and 32 states continue to operate primarily under One-Call laws in place.

Playing catch-up

“Many of the laws enacted last year clarify terminology of existing laws; strengthen enforcement of One-Call regulations; in some cases increasing fines for non-compliance upgrading definitions of facilities covered; and eliminating certain exemptions,” said Kelly. “In some instances, legislation was encouraged by the prospect of losing loss of federal funds. There’s really not much ‘new’ in changes and new legislation, but a focus on doing what has been documented to be effective.”

Historically, said Kelly, it has been documented that enforcement with realistic fines encourages compliance which, in turn, reduces damages.

“States serious about damage prevention,” Kelly continued, “have been implementing effective enforcement programs for the last 10 to 20 years – Arizona, Virginia, New York and Minnesota were early leaders. Tying federal funds to local One-Call programs is causing states that previously were unable to pass damage prevention to place a higher priority on effective legislation and enforcement.”

Examples of 2013 changes cited in the report include:

• North Carolina – approved legislation that is almost a complete rewrite of the old law, updating most definitions, requiring mandatory membership of facility operators, stipulating that excavator costs for compliance will not be charged to utility operators or vice-versa, and requiring operators to maintain a notification center for the sole purpose of providing the services required by the statute. It will become effective on Oct. 1, 2014.
• Arkansas – raised penalties, changed definitions of “Operator” and “Person” to more standard definitions, clarified which underground facilities are covered and removed exemptions for giving notice of excavation when working in a highway right-of- way.
• Washington State – implemented locating of sewer laterals, mandatory membership, damage reporting by excavator and utility operator, notification to transmission pipeline operators by state or local permitting agency of planned construction activity within 100 feet of a transmission pipeline right-of-way, and established a dispute resolution board.

Kelly describes pending One-Call legislation as backside efforts to clean up laws and regulations. Some states, he said, lag behind because they have become bogged down in details such as who is responsible for enforcement and cite lack of manpower for implementing their programs and are taking steps to correct the situation.

Kelly points out that the report is a snapshot in time, not the full picture, with legislation always subject to change.

However, it is important to be aware of changes made and to anticipate those coming. “This allows companies to tailor their operations to avoid potential issues and that should mean fewer incidents and ultimately a more profitable bottom line,” he concluded.

Based in Winona, MN, Kelly is a damage prevention consultant who is an expert witness for parties involved in underground facility litigation, provides assistance in writing legislation and rules and regulations, and assists groups developing damage prevention programs.

Kelly is a member of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and serves on the organization’s Best Practices Committee.

Previously he was director of the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety and is a former member of the Gopher State (Minnesota) One-Call board of directors, was vice chairman of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives, chairman of its executive committee and member of the Grant Allocation and Risk Assessment Committees. He served three years on the gas committee of the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners.

For information about purchasing a copy of One-Call Legislation Survey 2014 call (507) 454-5147 or e-mail

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