The Pipeline Safety program, working with a federal Office of Pipeline Safety Damage Prevention Grant, has started an initiation which will increase enforcement and compliance of the state's dig law. The dig law requires that excavators contact the state's one-call system two business days before digging so that underground utilities can be marked prior to digging and avoided while digging.
The state law does not assign responsibility or authority for enforcing the law. Before any entity can be subjected to the penalties in state law, either a local prosecutor or assistant state attorney general must file charges in court and successfully prosecute the case. As a result, enforcement of the law is rare..
In 2005, the pipeline safety staff worked with a local natural gas distribution company on a case involving an excavator who had repeatedly hit the company's system. The commission formally requested the attorney general's office to file charges against the excavators based on alleged violations of the state dig law. The case settled with a consent decree filed requiring training for company employees and a $20,000 penalty ($15,000 of which was deferred contingent on the company complying with the law and other portions of the consent decree for two years. )
Early in 2006, the federal Office of Pipeline Safety awarded the Washington UTC pipeline safety program a damage prevention grant that will help defray the costs associated with retaining additional attorney general services for purposes of seeking penalties against the state's most flagrant violators of our dig law. The first step in this process has been a data request of all pipeline companies operating in the state. The request requires companies to provide the pipeline safety program with information about hits to their system as a result of violation of the state's dig law.
After the information is received from the companies, the pipeline safety will sort through the information and adopt plan for pursuing enforcement and encouraging compliance.