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WA Going After Those Who Don't Call Before Digging

At the request of state utility regulators, the Washington state's attorney general will seek a stiff penalty against a Puget Sound-area construction company that has repeatedly hit and damaged underground utility wires and pipelines.

The enforcement action prepared by the attorney general's office at the request of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) cites Talerico Construction Inc. of Puyallup for illegally digging near major utility lines without taking the proper precautions. The state is seeking as much as $61,000 in fines.This year, the UTC instituted a pilot project of looking more closely at utility damage records and pursuing frequent violators of the state's underground utilities law.According to Puget Sound Energy (PSE) records, Talerico employees have struck and damaged the utility's underground electrical wiring and natural gas pipelines 10 different times over the last two years. In each case, energy service was disrupted to PSE customers and the safety of utility workers and the public was put at risk.

State law requires excavators, including homeowners, to provide two business days' notice before breaking ground. Providing sufficient notice allows the owners of the underground utilities to clearly mark the ground above where the wires, cables and pipelines are buried. Even though such contact can be made by calling a toll-free number, Talerico failed to make the call in nine out of 10 of the cases where damage was done to underground facilities. On the other occasion, the company failed to dig carefully around the underground service. Failure to call can result in penalties up to $10,000.

The commission's pipeline-safety program is responsible for performing safety inspections on the state's 21,000 miles of natural-gas and hazardous-liquid pipelines. Excavation work is one of the leading causes of damage to pipelines.

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