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PUC levies penalties for violations of underground utility law

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State utility regulators on Thursday announced a series of disciplinary actions against dozens of Pennsylvania building owners, excavators and others for violations of a state law designed to protect pipes, wires and other underground utilities.

The PA One Call Damage Prevention Committee — a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission entity with a focus on reducing damage to underground utilities  — issued warning letters and fines to 42 owners and excavators.

At its first meeting in November, the committee issued 68 fines.

The Damage Prevention Committee is relatively new. It was created in 2017 through an amendment to the original Underground Utility Line Protection Act, which took effect in 1974. Under the revised law, alleged violations of the act are to be reported to the PUC through the Pennsylvania One Call System. The committee then reviews them.

The One Call System is a nonprofit clearinghouse that provides a single toll-free phone number (811) for contractors to call before they begin excavation work on a site. Contractors also can use an online tool, which is designed to inform utility companies and other property owners that excavation work is occurring and could impact utility service.

The most recent list includes fines related to five projects in Lancaster County and one in Berks County.

  • James K. Allwein Inc. received a warning letter and $1,450 in fines for damaging a PPL electric line in connection with a May project at Keller Bros. Ford in Lititz.
  • Smucker Fencing received a warning letter and $2,050 in fines for damaging a plastic gas main owned by UGI in Lititz in June. The incident forced the evacuation of 60 people from their homes and 50 customers lost service.
  • Lancaster City was fined $750 because the water and sewer authority failed to mark a sewer lateral, which was then struck in May by Miller Pipeline, which was doing excavation for UGI Utilities. UGI, the project owner, was also fined $500.
  • Pine Berry Remodeling received a warning letter and was fined $1,000 for excavating without a Pennsylvania One Call System ticket or obtaining a township permit for a May project in Penn Township, Lancaster County. No damage resulted from the excavation.
  • Lapp Fence & Supply was fined $1,000 for installing a fence in East Lampeter Township in July without a One Call ticket.
  • Birdsboro Borough in Berks County was fined $750 for failing to mark a sewer line and being late to respond to a design ticket for an excavation project in June. The line was damaged in the project. The Reading Area Water Authority, the project owner, also was fined $250.

According to the PUC, facility owners must submit alleged violations within 30 business days after they receive notice that utility lines have been damaged by excavation or demolition work or if the facility owner believes a violation of the act has occurred.

No report may be required when the cost to repair a facility owner's lines is less than $2,500, unless the same person damaged the facility owner's lines two or more times within a six-month period.

Excavators, meanwhile, must submit a report of an alleged violation within 10 business days after striking or damaging a utility line during excavation or demolition or if the excavator believes a violation has been committed during excavation or demolition work.

Project owners also have 10 days to report alleged violations after their excavation contractor damages a utility line.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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