The Sun News

Q&A with Melanie Griffin

City of residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: Supervisor of construction services, Flint Energies

Q: April is National Safe Digging Month, and you’re on a mission. What’s up?

A: We’re getting people to understand they should always call 811 or go online at www.gaupc.com before they dig. Always. Every time. Every project.

Q: You’re talking about home gardeners and do-it-yourselfers as well as professional contractors?

A: Absolutely. Anybody and everybody that digs a little or a lot. Of course, contractors dig a lot more through the year with their daily work, but the reason we pick April as National Safe Digging Month is that spring is the peak period for homeowners and regular people like you and I to start our gardening and around-the-house projects. It’s important for everyone to call 811 or go to the website before they dig. There are gas, electrical, telecommunications, water and other utility lines and pipes deep down there and some nearer the surface that can be torn up and that can cause disrupted service and worse.

Q: A contractor probably knows to do this, if they remember to do it, but an average Joe working around the house on small projects -- does it really matter?

A: It can really matter, and that’s the point. You just don’t know where things are unless you find out.

Q: Someone’s building a room on the front of their house near where power lines come in, that makes sense. But what about just planting some bushes at the back of a yard? Should they call?

A: They should call. You never know how things may have been years ago or what may be going on there now even though it doesn’t seem like a logical place for lines to be. There could have been different grading at one time or erosion may have occurred. You never know until you know.

Q: How about planting petunias a few inches deep?

A: Call. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you don’t call and nothing happens, well fine. But if something does, then you have to deal with that and there are consequences.

Q: Consequences?

A: First and foremost, there’s the risk of death or injury. By the grace of God, there have been very few cases of either over the years but there have been cases, and there’s a real possibility for it. That’s the No. 1 concern. But damage to facilities and service interruptions, too. When power lines are cut you can’t cook, air conditioning goes off and more serious things occur, like people on oxygen lose power for that. It can only your home or potentially the neighborhood or even a wider area.

Q: Isn’t that more work and expense for the utility companies?

A: Fortunately, our response is always fairly quick and we get service restored soon, but yes, it is added work and expense.

Q: There are legal issues, too, right?

A: Most people don’t realize that, but yes, there are. You can be fined locally and possibly through the Public Service Commission. Plus, you are potentially liable for expenses resulting from damage. You can get an idea of some of the actual laws and regulations from www.georgia811.com.

Q: So you wake up one morning thinking, “I’m going to rototill my 12-by-12-foot garden today, I better call 811 or go to www.gaupc.com and check things out.” Then you’re good to go?

A: Actually, you have to call two days, 48 hours, ahead. Essentially, you contact us and give an idea of the place, the quadrant, you’re going to be working. We call that white lining. Then the utilities have 48 hours to respond. They may send someone out to mark where their lines or pipes are. You have to give 48 hours for the response; then, technically, you’re safe to dig.

Q: That may be a lot more planning than some give to getting their daisies planted, right?

A: But it’s safer. We just want everybody to have a basic understanding of what to do to keep themselves, their families, our workers and everyone out of harm’s way and keep power and other utilities up and running like we expect them to be.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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