We've got the Laws That Kill

Ok, we know that title is a cheesy take of the classic Motley Crue song, but even more importantly, it's something which can best describe the ticking time bomb which is the state's Underground Utilities Damage Prevention Act.

Written in 1978, this law hasn't been touched since. The potentially-deadly inadequancies which are permitted by this law are ones that have been addressed in a number of states, often after people were killed.

Yes, people get killed by the kinds of loopholes that exist in these laws here in South Carolina. Efforts to amend those laws have been in the works for years, but other groups have convinced legislators there's just no point in protecting the people of South Carolina.

The first deadly fallacy in state law is the "Call before you dig" line that is promoted around the state. While the law does require you to give notice, calling "811" does not guarantee that those with underground utilities near your home or business will be notified.

The truth is that state law does not require utilities to be members of the One Call center. Most are, but on some projects, I've found more than one utility was not.

The second deadly fallacy is that calling 811 require any utility to actually mark where their buried electric, water, sewer, telephone, cable or natural gas lines are located. Just ask any contractor whose work is put on hold while waiting for the utility locators to show up - and sometimes never show up at all.

The truth is that contractors and individuals wishing to dig are required to give notice and wait three business days. What is known as "positive response", where all calls must receive either an on-site visit or "all clear" notification (and is law in most states), is not here.

The third deadly fallacy is that there is any sort of requirement for accuracy or accountability for when the lines aren't where you're told they are. Like a natural gas line that was breached across from the Wal-Mart in Summerville. One spark would have lit the line up, which was thirty feet away from where it was supposed to be, as well as a lot of people nearby.

The truth is that there are no standards for marking facilities, no training requirements for those who locate them, and no enforcement powers by which those who are found to be responsible can be held accountable.

South Carolina politicos have three options before them - amend the state law now, amend the state law after a disaster, or allow the federal government, via the 2006 PIPES Act to establish jurisdiction over South Carolina regarding this issue.

Thus far, representatives from several utility companies - including out-of-state companies - have regularly acted to block reform efforts. One reform effort, sponsored by Reps Cato and Sandifer, made it to the Senate where it was blocked with intense lobbying by an electric cooperative.

A number of legislators have listened to requests to help on this important issue which can, even if you don't realize it, impact the lives of many South Carolinians. Watch for legislation to be sponsored to close these loopholes and bring South Carolina up to generally-accepted national standards.

2 Response to "We've got the Laws That Kill"

  1. mg 17/12/09 18:18
    Were you under the influence of D and H BBQ when you wrote this. Actually right good.
  2. Anonymous 17/12/09 21:02
    I absolutely can not believe you used the phrases "legislation - i.e. the South Carolina State Legislature", "bring South Carolina up", and "to generally accepted national standards" in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence. Surely you are not counting on the clowns in Columbia to actually do the right thing for South Carolina. You have obviously been inhaling asphalt fumes for waaaay too long my friend.

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