Call 811 before you dig this spring

So youve decided to plant a couple of trees in your landscape this weekend. Whats the worst thing that could happen? An aching back? Blistered hands? Not even close!
How about swinging a pickaxe, hearing a clang and getting drenched with a geyser gushing from the water main you hit? Or maybe pulling back the lever on your rented Bobcat and realizing youve just ruptured a gas line or torn up a buried electrical cable?
Its safe to say that any of those could pretty much ruin your weekend. You would also earn the wrath of your neighbors whose utilities were cut off until crews could repair your damage, and its likely youd be responsible for the cost of repairs and possibly even open to legal consequences.
You might think that the hole you are digging for that new tree isnt deep enough to cause a problem, but that can be a dangerous assumption. For one thing, some utilities might be closer to the surface than you imagine.
Additionally, you have to remember that tree roots can go deep and wide as the tree matures, and planting over or close to underground utilities is like burying a green time bomb that can dislodge and break lines many years in the future.
Fortunately, this is a problem that has a very simple (and free) solution.
All you have to do BEFORE you dig is call a single 3-digit phone number: 811. When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days.
Utility companies have offered this service for many years, but with so many companies with so many phone numbers spread across the country, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Hence the start of a national one-call service and a unique phone number, 811.
Some homeowners believe the 811 service is solely for contractors but that is incorrect. Utility companies are just as happy to mark their lines for your DIY projects as for professional excavation jobs.
I should add that, even if you hire professional contractors to build that new deck or fence on your property, dont assume they will call 811 before they begin work. I recommend that you ask the contractor if they have already done so, or you can simply call 811 yourself and tell your contractor that youve made the call.
Within a few days, youll see some little colored flags or lines of colored paint criss-crossing your land, indicating what lies beneath. Heres what the colors indicate:
Red Electric Orange Communications, Telephone/CATV Blue Potable Water Green Sewer/Drainage Yellow Gas/Petroleum Pipe Line Purple Reclaimed Water White Premark site of intended excavation As you can see, white paint or flags are used to indicate where you or your contractors are planning to dig. Its a very good idea to mark the dig location before the utility locator teams come out. But be sure you use only WHITE markers to avoid any confusion! While the marker teams are looking down, you should take a few moments to look up. Overhead power and telephone lines are so much part of our lives that they almost become invisible to us.
But a tree planted under or close to an overhead power line can be a major problem. Before you plant a tree anywhere near overhead lines, double-check the possible mature height and canopy spread, and if necessary err on the side of caution and plant it a little further away.
Special thanks to Alecia White, representing The Common Ground Alliance, for reminding us that more than 256,000 underground utility lines are struck each year in the U.S. If youd rather not be part of that statistic, simply call 811 so youll know whats below before you dig.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org
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snipped-for-privacy@Greenwoodnursery.com wrote:

You need to do more research before you post. There is no such number in our area.
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On 3/3/2010 12:38 PM, John wrote:

Here says federal mandate:
http://www.call811.com/about-us/default.aspx
Wonder if you get arrested if you don't call first and just dig?
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I'd not be surprised that the call before you dig refers to digging near underground gas lines.
Bill
--
Garden in shade zone 5 S Jersey USA



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We periodically get peppered with those "Call before you dig" TV ads, so I called our local utility company and was referred to the 811 number for a free locator service. Made arrangements for someone to come locate and mark all of our utilities before we brought in equipment to regrade the backyard to install a new patio, paths, and a home greenhouse. A guesthouse/workshop is set behind the house and we were concerned that our project could interfere with the underground electrical lines. Told the customer service person exactly what we were doing and where it was located.
Waited all day for their man to show up and when he finally appeared, pointed out the area where we would be digging. He grunted at me and headed for the street, about 250 feet from the backyard. For about half an hour he occupied himself with his little gizmo, locating the lines & planting little flags in the ground between the street and the house. Then he announced that he was done.
"What about the backyard and the lines to the guesthouse - remember that's where we're digging," I asked. "We are only required to locate utilities between the street and the meter on the house. The rest is your problem." No amount of pleasant pleas could convince this jerk to take 5 minutes and track the underground line from the main house electric meter to the guesthouse 20 feet away.
Complained to my utility company who said they were having chronic "issues" with the 811 service provider. They contract with a national locator service but evidently have little or no control over them.
Long and the short of it, the mandated program may a good concept, but unless you're only digging in your front yard, it's a total waste of time. Not knowing where the lines were made for a long, nervous afternoon of cautious hand digging.
Nancy T
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