Call Before You Dig: It’s The Law

NLI underground services are marked with a red painted NLI or a flag. Photo courtesy of NLI

As warmer weather settles in for the season, many of us start working on projects involving digging on our properties. Planting trees, setting fence posts or installing irrigation systems are projects for which you would likely need to request an underground locate.

Even projects that don’t seem big must have underground utilities located if you are going to dig. It is the law. You could be digging into more than just dirt in your project area, so calling for underground locates before beginning your project is important. Laws vary by state, but if you are digging more than a foot in depth, it is necessary to request an underground locate through the 811 Call Before You Dig hotline.

Utilities buried in the ground in our region include phone, fiber, cable TV, water, sewer, natural gas and electric. Beyond the devastating risks of death or injury, consider you could be held liable for repair costs if you damage a utility’s underground facilities. Additionally, you would likely be inconvenienced if the utility is serving your home.

If you have a contractor doing work for you, the contractor is responsible for requesting the locate. Utilities do not locate private or secondary lines on your property; those are your responsibility.

Northern Lights Inc. has approximately 47% of its power lines underground and is responsible for marking the location of its power lines for others. When a homeowner or contractor requests a locate, NLI uses U.S. Infrastructure Co.—a locating contractor—to mark NLI’s facilities in the area of planned excavation. Using a contractor is more cost effective than having NLI lineworkers perform the work. However, NLI lineworkers are equipped to handle NLI cable locates in emergencies.

The 811 locate coordinator, USIC and NLI maintain electronic maps of the utilities. When a request arrives at the 811 hotline, it is easy to tell what utility providers are in a specific area and need to be located.

NLI follows the same laws homeowners must follow regarding 811. When NLI line crews have excavation work in the field—such as replacing a pole or installing underground cable—NLI also must call in a locate request before crews can dig.

There are provisions in the law for emergency locates. Those should only be used when marking underground utilities is needed to restore power, fix gas or water leaks, or truly is an emergency that needs to be repaired immediately. Remember, before you dig, call 811 for a locate. It’s easy, free and the law. Calling in a locate is easy and free to do.

  • Mark the area where you plan to dig with white paint or flags.
  • Call 811 at least 2 full business days before you plan to dig. The 811 call center will contact all the utilities known to be in the area to come and locate their facilities. If you plan to install a new fence on a Saturday morning, this means you must call in your locate no later than Wednesday.
  • Do not dig until all known facilities are marked. Please verify all companies identified on your locate request have responded. Please remember that multiple electric or communication companies may exist within your digging area. Locators will respond using color-coded paint or flags (see color key below). Marks should indicate the responding company. NLI marks will be identified with a painted “NLI” or flags with our logo.
  • Hand dig within close vicinity of located facilities to keep from damaging them.
  • Maintaining the marked location of utilities during your digging is your responsibility. Underground locate marks are good for 21 days in Idaho and 30 days in Montana after the first request. Once this time has passed, you must submit a new locate request.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.