The city of Soldotna digs safe excavating practices.
During Wednesday’s city council meeting, Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson proclaimed April as “Safe Digging Month.” Digging haphazardly can have several negative consequences, especially with regard to utility lines.
A damaged utility line can cause “service interruption, damage to the environment, and potential personal injury can occur,” according to the proclamation signed by Anderson.
To promote safety during tree and shrub planting, building, or other outdoor development, the city encourages residents to call 811 before starting any project that requires digging.
811 is a federally mandated Federal Communications Commision number that people can use to get utility companies to come mark underground lines before excavating.
The service is free of charge and is mandatory, unless a person is digging less than 12 inches underground for agricultural purposes, according to the Alaska Digline Excavator’s Handbook.
In most places, a person must call at least two business days prior to digging in order to allow professionals time to mark the lines with various colors of paint or flags depending on a line’s function.
Lindsay Hobson, communications manager for Enstar Natural Gas, spoke at the city council meeting to support the practice of calling 811. She said that statistically, Alaskans are more prone to digging accidents than many people around the country.
“Consistently, Alaska’s hit rate is three times more than the national average,” she said. “So we want to create awareness to reduce that number.”
Hobson said that the 811 service is effective. When a locate request is made, the chance of hitting a line is less than 1 percent, she said.
“This is important because half of Americans are active diggers, and 36 percent of homeowners plan to dig this year, but more than half of those do not request locates,” she said.
Hobson said that there are many reasons why people don’t call 811 before digging, but one of the biggest reasons is that people don’t know about the service.
Another reason people don’t use the service is because they don’t want to wait to dig.
Under Alaska statute, a civil penalty ranging from $50 to $1,000 will be issued for each offense that results in a damaged line.
Hobson said it was important to educate the public about the program and safe digging practice.
“By working together and recognizing the importance, we will make a difference,” Hobson said.
Reach Ian Foley at Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org