- Report Published -
|The Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act|
|State Corporation Commission|
|HJR 439 (Regular Session, 1993)|
|In 1979, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act ("Act"). The intent of the legislation was to minimize the probability of damage to underground utilities from excavation or demolition activities. The Act was amended in 1980, 1989, and 1992. The 1989 amendment requires, among other things, the notification center to be certificated by the State Corporation Commission ("Commission").|
In July, 1992, the Commission recognized the need for a comprehensive review of the entire Act. Accordingly, the Commission directed its Staff to establish a committee to review the Act and identify needed revisions or additions.
In September, 1992, a meeting was held with all interested parties to select a committee. The committee established was comprised of representatives from the gas, electric, and telephone utilities, cable television, contractors, locating contractors, excavating contractors, notification centers, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the City of Richmond, the Department of Commerce, and the Commission Staff. From its beginning, the committee agreed that a comprehensive review of the Act was necessary to revise the many areas of the Act that were considered unworkable and frequently misinterpreted. The committee's work was formalized by the passage of House Joint Resolution 430 ("HJR 430") during the 1993 Session of the General Assembly. HJR 430 required the Commission to review the Act, with the aid of interested parties and other state agencies, and present its findings and recommendations to the 1994 Session.
As one of its first actions, the committee prepared and distributed a survey regarding damage to underground facilities to 22 of the major utilities statewide. The survey indicated that approximately 91.5 percent of the incidents of damage were due to person(s) not complying with the existing Act.
After many hours of discussion and deliberation, the committee completed draft legislation for the Commission's consideration. This draft is presented as Appendix J to this report. It was prepared in an effort to make the Act a more workable law. Furthermore, the draft contains enforcement provisions since the existing Act was not being complied with as evidenced by the survey.
One of the committee's major discussion items was the communication, or lack thereof, between the utility operators, notification centers, and the excavators. The committee's draft legislation provides for the establishment of a new "operator-excavator information exchange system" which should enhance communication between the operators and excavators and thereby minimize damage to underground utility lines.
The committee also recognized the need for cooperation and communication between the operators and excavators, municipalities, state agencies and others to further decrease underground utility damage. Toward this goal, the draft legislation contains a provision for the establishment of an Advisory Board. It is anticipated that this Board will assist the Commission in the drafting of rules and regulations necessary to enforce the Act. The Board will also review probable violations of the Act and make recommendations to the Commission in that regard. Further, the Board will assist in the development of public awareness programs with respect to the Act.
As an increasing number of lines are placed underground, the need to reduce the possibility of damage increases. Damage to facilities could result in not only additional cost to consumers, but to possible loss of life and property. The committee's draft legislation should further enhance underground utility damage prevention in Virginia in the coming years. The committee recommends that the draft legislation, as contained in Appendix J to this report, be presented to the 1994 General Assembly.