Oregon contractor stresses importance of National 811 Day

August 11th is 811 day, (8-11,) which is geared to remind people to call before they dig.

Experts say when you’re working with everything from fences and trees to big construction projects, you need to know what’s underground before breaking ground.

Excavator Bill Atkinson says this is especially true, in light of recent gas leaks and the explosion in Sun Prairie. Atkinson says he’s been fascinated by crews breaking apart the ground and working with heavy equipment from a young age. 

"When I was little I was always the kid on the curb watching the guys dig up the road or any kind of construction," Atkinson said. "I was really always interested in it."

Now, he has his own gear and excavating company, Bill’s Earth Services, so calling 811 to find underground gas, electric or telecommunication lines is an integral part of his job.

"If there is anything buried in the area we’re going to be digging –we dig by hand first to see how deep it is," Atkinson said. "Then we dig up to a foot before and then we dig the rest out by hand and try to move it as best we can."

Atkinson was recently at a site near Stoughton, where he had to dig a hole for a pole and said the marking flags helped him know where to go and where not to dig.

"If you’re going to be digging in that area, you want to dig 18 inches on either side and make sure it’s not in that vicinity," Atkinson said.

He says that 18 inches is crucial.

According to Dana Brueck from Madison Gas and Electric, the markings are intended to be as accurate as possible, but they’re not always exactly spot on.

If contractors have to dig any closer than 18 inches, it’s recommended they use hand tools and expose the lines, to know exactly where they are before continuing.

Atkinson says it never hurts to be too careful.

"I just think people should be aware when on the job," Atkinson said. "If they don’t see flags, call and make sure it has been marked …  just to double check ’cause it could be dangerous for you and the people around you."

If you’re planning a dig you should call 811 at least  three days before, to give crews enough time to get out there.

MGE says that any damage to electric or gas lines should be reported to them right away, no matter how minor.

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