Iowa’s Attorney General announced seven lawsuits in six counties in cases where construction started without a call to check for underground utility lines. A-G spokesman, Geoff Greenwood, says the complaints involve natural gas lines. “In all of these cases, they either hit a natural gas line or they got very close to hitting one,” Greenwood says. The suits involve companies or individuals in Linn, Palo Alto, Jasper, Woodbury, Franklin, and Pottawattamie counties. Anyone who digs is supposed to dial up the Iowa One Call Center, at 1-800-292-8989, or 811, to have them come and mark underground lines.
“In these cases, nobody was injured…no explosions, fires anything like that, but we’ve had cases before where people have been hurt, we’ve had explosions, we’ve had situations where power has been knocked out or emergency communications lines have been knocked out,” Greenwood says. “If an excavator doesn’t call One Call before they dig, they are threatening themselves and they are threatening the public. We take these cases very seriously.” The law has been in place for over two decades.
Greenwood says anyone who digs has been required to make the call since 1993. Even with years of promoting the call-in number and high-profile cases, Greenwood doesn’t know why people still dig without taking the time to call. “It’s hard to say, and there may be various reasons why they didn’t call. But one reason is not cutting costs, it’s a free call. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t call,” according to Greenwood. “We think that in some cases it’s possible that it was a case of poor planning. A company moved up a dig order or moved up a project and didn’t do so in time to call.”
The call center is open 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. The people in these seven cases face fines from 35-hundred dollars up to five-thousand. “We handle these on a case-by-case basis. There are a situations where we have filed cases that resulted in a major threat to the public — there was a large explosion, there was a power outage, there was a communications outage. In other cases it was nothing more than the excavator got very close to a line and we still file cases,” Greenwood says. Violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to 10-thousand dollars each day for violations related to natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, and up to one-thousand dollars each day involving other underground facilities.
In a Pottawattmie County case, District Court Judge Timothy O’Grady, Monday, ordered that Wes Casson & Son LLC, of McClelland, pay a $5,000 civil penalty and permanently enjoined the company from violating the One Call law.
According to Miller’s lawsuit on November 11, 2013, the company conducted an excavation to install drainage tile and terraces in rural Pottawattamie County, without first contacting the Iowa One Call notification center and, thereby, failed to provide notice to operators of underground facilities. During the excavation, the company’s tiling equipment came to within seven feet of an eight-inch diameter natural gas pipeline, and during terracing went directly over the pipeline.