by Courtney Llewellyn
Excavating ground for any reason can sometimes be a dangerous task. You may never know what’s below the surface if you don’t take certain steps first. Not taking those precautions can even be against the law.
Recent California legislation created a new type of “dig ticket” for those working the normal business operations of a farm. The new ticket allows for an Area of Continual Excavation (ACE) to be open for one calendar year (instead of the 28 days of a standard ticket), which means farm workers don’t need to call in a ticket every time they need to till, do crop removal or other standard farm tasks. Bryan Harris, an outreach specialist at USA North 811, explained the new ACE tickets during the recent World Ag Expo.
Harris said 811 is nonprofit one-call center that Californians need to call when they plan on breaking ground in any way. The call lets the organization send out notifications to utility companies in the area so they can mark where their underground lines are.
“The main benefit of the ACE ticket is it’s valid for a whole year,” Harris said. “There are operations doing agricultural work continually that falls under the label of ‘excavation,’ and it can be cumbersome to call in for routine work on their land.”
He said that if you’re asking “Do I need a ticket?” the answer is almost always yes in California, as the state’s law spells out that “excavation” is essentially anything that disturbs the ground.
There are five steps to be followed to get an ACE ticket: The farmer must mark the site where they want to do the work (tilling, replanting, planting, etc.) in white (using paint, flags or stakes) – and it’s important to maintain those markers. Then they must contact 811 to submit a dig ticket. They will have to wait the required time (811 asks that requests be made a minimum of two working days ahead of time, and a maximum of 14 calendar days). Confirm that everyone has responded before ground is broken. The final step is digging safely.
There are some agriculture-specific regulations. For example, when the area of continual excavation includes or is within 10 feet of a high priority subsurface installation, the utility operator needs to notify the farmer of its existence with an onsite meeting prior to the legal excavation start date to prevent damage to the installation. If the ACE is not within 10 feet of an installation, the utility operator may still request an onsite meeting.
Additionally, an excavating farmer discovering or causing damage to a subsurface installation (including breaks, leaks, nicks, dents, gouges, grooves or other damage) needs to immediately notify the utility operator of the damage. Emergency services need to be called immediately upon causing or discovering damage to a natural gas or hazardous liquid pipeline or any high priority subsurface installation of any kind.
More information and forms for ACEs can be found on the Dig Safe Board website, digsafe.fire.ca.gov. Anyone with questions is invited to contact Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 925.222.6514.