Group: Digging before calling is too risky

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 5, 2006

FERRIDAY &8212; The Pipeline Group had a simple message to deliver to local contractors, excavators and anyone else thinking about putting a shovel in the ground.

Call before you dig.

And with almost 87,000 miles of pipeline in Louisiana &8212; and 58,000 in Mississippi &8212; danger might be a lot closer than you think.

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State law &8212; both states &8212; mandates calling the One-Call System in order to verify the land to be dug is clear of dangerous lines.

In Mississippi, the number is 1-800-227-6477; Louisianans should call 1-800-272-3020. They system will notify all pipeline operators in the vicinity, and they will send someone to mark nearby points of danger or give you the all clear.

Both numbers will give the caller a number with which to verify the call was made.

The systems require 48 hours to respond to the inquiry, time weekend warriors may not wish to wait.

The Pipeline Group&8217;s Robert Bruton told of a man using a post-hole digger to install a basketball goal.

&8220;He punched it down, hit an electric line and electrocuted himself,&8221; he said.

Planning ahead is a message Adams County Road Manager Clarence Jones said his department has taken to heart.

Unless digging in an area they know through past checks to be clear, Jones said his department has a very clear procedure.

&8220;Wherever we&8217;re digging, we call them 48 hours ahead,&8221; he said.

After a backhoe, not one of Jones&8217;, cut a natural gas line in Natchez last year &8212; but didn&8217;t ignite &8212; Jones hardly needed the reminder.

And while taking precautions can help prevent tragedies, sometimes leaks just happen. Taking the proper steps in such an event can also save lives, Bruton said.

&8220;If you discover a leak, call 911,&8221; he told the group.

He showed footage from a gas leak and subsequent explosion in St. Cloud, Minn. &8212; in which four people died and 911 was not called immediately &8212; suggesting the delay could have slowed evacuation of the downtown area.

The Pipeline Group travels throughout 18 state delivering safety lectures on behalf of local pipeline operators.

&8220;If it&8217;ll save us from one accident and save one life, then it&8217;s well worth it,&8221; Mark Luquette of Columbia Gulf Transmission Company said.