Opinion: Call 811 before beginning digging projects

Sally Talberg

Everyone has heard about calling 911 in an emergency. Or 211 if they need to reach community or human resource services.

But how many have heard about calling 811 before you start any outdoor digging projects?

That’s the number you should dial, and someone will come out to mark underground utility lines in your project area at no expense to you, so you can steer clear of them when you put a shovel in the ground. You should do this whether you’re putting up a new mailbox post, planting a tree, or expanding your business.

iAug. 11 is 8/11 Day and what better day to remind Michiganders how to avoid severing underground lines. These could be gas, electrical, cable TV, high-speed internet, telecommunications, water, or sewer lines that your family and community depend on.

There is a host of utility infrastructure that is buried all over the state and it is a priority of the Michigan Public Service Commission to make sure everyone is safe when interacting with utility lines.

Each year, there are thousands of incidents in Michigan where lines are struck during construction projects. For gas lines alone, there are about 4,000 reported mishaps annually. Nationwide, every nine minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone didn’t call 811 first, according to Common Ground Alliance, the national association dedicated to protecting underground utility lines.

Many of those incidents can be avoided. Striking an underground utility line can lead to injury, property damage, and even death. Plus, you could face fines or expensive repair costs.

Talberg writes: "Three business days before you start your project, make the free call to MISS DIG 811 or go to www.missdig.org to fill out a request to have lines located."

Three business days before you start your project, make the free call to MISS DIG 811 or go to www.missdig.org to fill out a request to have lines located. If you’ve hired a contractor to do your job, make sure they have called 811 before they start working.

Once you provide MISS DIG with details about your digging site, your local utility companies will be notified. The companies then will send out professional locators who will distinctly mark the various underground lines with small, color-coded flags or spray paint.

With the area properly designated, you can start your work. Stay four feet away from marked areas, but if you need to get closer, dig carefully with hand tools to expose utility infrastructure. The depth of lines varies and can change over the years due to erosion, previous projects, or uneven surfaces. A utility line might be closer to the surface than you think.

Whether your project is big or small, always call 811 before you dig and know what’s below.

Sally Talberg is chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission