Special Report: Avoiding catastrophic accidents involving underground utilities

Special Report: Avoiding catastrophic accidents involving underground utilities

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- There are thousands of accidents involving underground utilities a year and most of it is completely preventable.

Every nine minutes, a utility line is struck in the US and the result can be catastrophic.

The July 10 explosion in Sun Prairie killed Fire Captain Cory Barr.

Two contractors were cited for failing to locate the gas line before digging, a violation of state law.

In Wisconsin, at least 3,500 utility lines were struck in 2017 according to a Common Ground Alliance report.

Almost half of those were because there was an issue locating the lines or the caller didn't call the Diggers Hotline

Diggers Hotline is a nonprofit organization that takes calls from anyone who needs to dig for a project. They take the request and then contact the utility companies that could have lines underground where the project is going to be.

The utility companies are then responsible for marking their own lines so they don't get damaged.

The workers in Sun Prairie did not call the Diggers Hotline, assuming previous contractors had.

State Representative Gary Hebl wants to make sure an explosion like in Sun Prairie never happens again. He is now in the process of introducing a new bill that would require every contractor working on a project to call and request their own Diggers Hotline ticket before digging.

"Our legislation would have that ticket only valid for the person who took it out," said Rep. Gary Hebl (D) Sun Prairie.

It's an issue companies like We Energies have to deal with regularly. Their lines were struck more than a thousand times last year.

If you hit the line, you may be responsible for the damage.

"Sending crews out there and making the repairs takes time and money so yes, we would invoice you for that," said Andrew LaTona with We Energies.

Even common house projects like putting in a fence, planting a tree, and tilling your garden requires a call to 811.

We Energies has electric and gas lines all over the state. When working on a gas project, they had to call the Diggers Hotline to get the underground utilities marked.

"You can see the gas lines but there's also some other facilities in the area, electric communications, and so on that they've been working around," said LaTona.

In Wisconsin, a new state regulation allows contractors or utility companies to be fine up to $25,000 for negligence.

"If anyone is cutting corners on that then enforcement is a great step," said Chad Krueger, PR Manager for Diggers Hotline.

To learn more about Diggers Hotline or to file a request, click here.

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