Starting in July, stricter guidelines will be enforced on those who don’t call 8-1-1 before digging a hole deeper than 12 inches or using mechanical equipment on private property.
These include penalties and fines ranging from about $500 to $5,000.
Senate Bill 2755, which was signed into law May 13 by Gov. Phil Bryant, spells out penalties for Mississippians who don’t follow state code that regulates digging around underground utility lines and other elements.
Excavators, contractors, builders and private residents who are going to drill, blast, dig or bore on private property are already required by law to notify Mississippi 811 beforehand to prevent damage to underground facilities or abruptly stopping vital public services.
Upon receiving a call, Mississippi 811 notifies any affected utility company, who then sends a representative to the dig site to mark where underground facilities and lines are so they may be avoided.
State lawmakers voted to initiate penalties or fines if residents don’t follow this procedure, beginning July 1.
A first offense means the violator must complete a training course on compliance. A second offense in a five-year period requires a training course or a fine of up to $500 per incident.
A third offense in a five-year period requires a penalty of up to $2,500 per incident, while a malicious act with intent to damage underground lines would mean a training course and up to $5,000 per incident.
“This is a brand new deal,” said Sam Johnson, president of Mississippi 811. “The law has always been there that requires people to call before digging … We’ve never had any fines or penalties. That’s what this is about: the state of Mississippi being able to initiate these rather than the federal government.”
According to State Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, R-Newton, the federal government said the state needed some type of penalties for those who would destroy pipelines in the ground.
“That’s why we felt the bill was necessary, so that the federal government wouldn’t come in and … put more burdensome regulations and restrictions,” Burton said. “As long as we have something in the law, we feel that the federal government pipeline safety approach will let us do our own thing and do it our way rather than heavy fines at the federal level.”
Johnson said the new law allows Mississippi to have a reasonable process of training and fines compared to the federal government charging up to $200,000 per incident per day for a violation.
Johnson said Mississippi 811’s call volume from Jan. 1 until now was up about 20 percent compared to the same time last year.
“Some of that is due to the fact that the law is passing or has passed as well as there are some new projects going on in the state,” Johnson said.
The law will also create an Underground Facilities Damage Prevention Board later this year.
Certain routine maintenance activities on public roadways and rights-of-ways will be exempt from laws regulating the excavation of underground utility lines.