MARION — Dialing three numbers before doing work in the yard could save lives.
Whether it's installing a basketball hoop, planting a tree, or pulling a tree stump, all individuals need call 811 before breaking the surface of the earth in any fashion, according to Ameren Illinois Public Awareness Supervisor Gina Meehan-Taylor.
“Call before you dig,” she said Thursday. “It is a free service and it could safe somebody’s life.”
She said there may be surface lines that have been 18 inches deep in the past, but now could be even less. Any time people dig, a ticket from Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators (J.U.L.I.E.) needs to be issued.
She said when people start digging blindly and hit a natural gas line, there could be a fire or an explosion. Even worse, she said, the gas could start migrating underground — and there's no telling where the gas could go.
Additionally, she said calling the number before digging is a state law and there could be financial consequences if a line is hit without calling.
Meehan-Taylor shared an example of a half-inch service line that was struck by a contractor. After contact with the line, the contractor decided he would fix it himself instead of calling the gas company. She said he bought a few clamps and attempted to fix the pipe. Eventually, there was another leak, causing the gas to migrate underground and could have entered into other people’s homes.
“It could be very dangerous,” she said.
It’s up to the person doing the work to make the call to J.U.I.L.E., Meehan-Taylor said. If a homeowner hires a contractor that plans to dig into the yard and colored markings aren’t visible indicating where lines are, she said it’s probably a good idea to ask if the call was made.
However, accidents still happen, even when markings are present. But it’s important to act quickly.
“It is important to call before you dig but also respect the markings, and if you do hit something, they need to call right away so Ameren can get out there and solve the problem before it becomes a disaster,” Meehan-Taylor said.
Throughout time, accidents have decreased, she said, but there are still too many.
“A lot of times, they don’t even make the call,” Meehan-Taylor said.
If a line is hit, there’s a good chance the person will smell gas right away and if it’s blowing, the first call needs to go to 911. Meehan-Taylor said first responders need to be on-site first in case of an evacuation.
Allan Kish, damager prevention supervisor with Ameren says each colored flag means something different. Red means an electric line. Yellow is a gas line. Green is a sewer line and orange is a communication line.
Kish said those markings tell people there is a line somewhere within 18 inches of the mark. He said if a dig is necessary, it is best to dig by hand in the area with caution.