By Jeff Zeringue
Can you dig it might sound like an out-of-date phrase of another generation, but when you want to safely excavate anywhere, especially when it concerns a logging job, it’s a good question to ask.
In fact, it’s the law.
Brent Saltzman, interim executive director of Louisiana 811, said the Louisiana One Call system began in the mid-1970s ago when BellSouth wanted to protect its underground infrastructure. That’s when the DOTTIE program was established — Dial One Time To Inform Everyone.
This was established through the Dig Law and includes an advisory panel that helps with changes to the law. Saltzman said the original law passed in 1988, but it has been changed about 14 times since then.
Essentially, Saltzman said, Louisiana 811 is a call center, taking information from an excavator and send it out to utility companies that have facilities in the area.
“And by law they are obligated to mark their infrastructure within two full business days,” he said. Weekends and holidays are not included in the two days.
Most foresters know that it is mandatory to file a request to Louisiana 811 to find out whether any underground utilities or pipelines are hidden anywhere a logging job has been designated. That wasn’t always the case when the early system began more than three decades ago.
“For a while around towns where they were building roads and putting sewer lines, for example, it was mandatory, but they never really required it in the rural area for forestry,” said Steve Taylor, an analyst with Walsh Timber Co.
Taylor was one of the early testers of the new online system.
“When we first started having to use it, the system was cumbersome because we had to have driving directions to the harvest site,” he said. “When you go down company roads and forest roads, saying go a half mile east and turn down another road, it was very difficult.”
Taylor said he recommended adding GPS coordinates with a quarter-mile circumference.
Now it’s easier than ever, said Jennifer Dugas, planning and roads forester for Weyerhaeuser.
“You can go online and draw where you are, zoom into your area where you’re going to log,” Dugas said.
Once the request is submitted online, Dugas said a ticket is generated that includes legal description of the area. Then it is emailed to everyone who needs to be contacted so that if any pipelines or utility lines are included in the area.
Saltzman said the information goes to Louisiana 811’s 1,070 members, which are the companies that have underground infrastructure they want to protect. Then the companies will have to clearly mark where its utilities are buried by the end of the two-day period.
Logging and other agricultural projects were added to the Dig Law because soil is moved and heavy equipment is involved, Dugas said.
“Anytime we move dirt, we have to call 811,” she said.
That includes roads or water bars, for example, as well as running heavy equipment like skidders and shearers over utility lines.
The law allows tickets — the request to locate and mark where infrastructure is — to be good as long as markers are visible or up to 20 calendar days. In recent years, however a change for agriculture and forestry work was passed by the Louisiana 811 advisory panel that allows for tickets to be good for up to 30 calendar days.
“You get another 10 days essentially because those projects tend to be large in nature,” Saltzman said.
It’s a convenience offered because if a ticket expires, the process has to start all over again.
Even if a ticket has to be renewed, Dugas said the renewal process is easy.
As easy and important as this system is, Taylor cautions that there are still difficulties. Some of the small pipelines are not in the system and not all of those companies follow the regulations.
Bruce Colclasure, North Louisiana production planning manager for Walsh Timber Co., said several “really old wells” might not be in the 811 system as well as some rural water departments.
“Parishwide systems, for sure are in the 811 system, but just a little small community water system, kind of out in the middle of somewhere, they’re not on 811 and you might not know where they’ll run,” he said.
Saltzman said abandoned pipelines are not required to be marked, which is another challenge, but that topic is being discussed so that a possible solution can be found.
For Taylor, the main reason is not necessarily to avoid damaging utility infrastructure, though that is important. It’s for the safety of the workers.
“We don’t want to drive equipment over a high-pressure pipeline and have it blow up,” he said. “We want to know because we want to be safe, as well as not damage the infrastructure.”
For more information, go online to www.louisiana811.com.