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Underground damage prevention enforcement

In December 2014, Governor John R. Kasich signed Senate Bill 378 updating Ohio’s underground damage prevention laws and placing the enforcement of these laws within the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). The law also created the Underground Technical Committee (UTC) to assist the PUCO by providing subject matter expertise and recommendations.

Why was the UTC created?

The 17-person committee was created to provide expertise during excavation violation reviews and to recommend a course of action for all inquires. The goal is to increase public safety by providing accountability of members of the OHIO811 and anyone who excavates or operates underground utilities in Ohio.

How will the UTC operate?

The first step will be for aggrieved parties to file a request for inquiry with the PUCO. The PUCO has to notify the alleged party and will proceed to gather information on the case. The PUCO will then relay all information to the UTC for recommended course of action.

The UTC can recommend to the Commission that no action should be taken or that a penalty is warranted. Penalties from the UTC can include warning letters, training requirements and fines up to $10,000 for persistent non-compliers. The fines/penalties may escalate depending on the number of previous violations the alleged party had. The UTC may also vote to defer enforcement action to the PUCO in cases it believes should be fined in excess of the $5,000 limit. 

If either party is not satisfied with the findings, they have 30 days to file a written application with the PUCO for reconsideration of the findings.

When will the new rules take effect?

On Jan. 1, 2016, the PUCO began fielding complaint calls regarding alleged violations of “Call Before You Dig” laws.

SB 378 does not contain any new underground damage prevention laws, but rather is an update to the laws that have been in effect since 1990.

How will the UTC enforce the updated rules?   

The UTC will only determine if a compliance failure occurred and recommend a course of action deemed appropriate. The UTC will be responsible for reviewing all submitted reports while the PUCO must enforce all recommendations of the UTC.

What do the updated rules entail for excavators?

OHIO811 will still be the primary contact for Ohioans who are planning excavations, though callers may be required to contact the Ohio Gas Producers Utilities Protection Service (OGPUPS) where appropriate.  A registration fee of up to $50 annually may be assessed to commercial excavators, utility operators, designers and developers who use the damage prevention system.  A failure to register may result in a fine up to $2,500.