- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Public Service Commission is hoping fines against four companies for damaging gas lines and an electrical cable during excavation projects in Mandan and Minot will draw more attention to the state’s “call before you dig” law.

State law requires excavators to contact a state “one-call” center at least 48 hours before digging, so the center can notify them of any pipelines, telephone or electrical lines, or other utility facilities buried in the area. Since 2009, when the PSC actively began enforcing the law, regulators have levied only a handful of fines annually, and the four fines levied at the Feb. 12 PSC meeting were unusual, Commission Chairman Brian Kalk said Monday.

“These four cases kind of all came to a head at the same time, and we wanted to highlight them - as we get closer to the spring construction season, make sure companies are following the rules,” he told The Associated Press.

Timber Ridge Plumbing and Heating Inc. of Bismarck, Kingdom Customs LLC of Minot and Rodenbough Trucking and Excavating Inc. of Surrey all were fined $1,000 for damaging natural gas lines. Timber Ridge and Kingdom Customs officials did not immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment. Owner Matthew Rodenbough said his company accepts responsibility for its error.

“I think it’s a good system,” he said of the one-call law. “Obviously the idea is to keep everyone safe. That’s what we want. We don’t want accidents. Any time you’re dealing with what you can’t see, you always want to give yourself the upper hand if you can.”

Littleton, Colo.-based American Civil Constructors Inc. was fined $2,000 for damaging an electrical cable in Minot, resulting in about 2,600 Verendrye Electric customers losing power for more than an hour.

Jody Randall, a company business operations official, said the incident occurred because of confusion, not carelessness, and that the company accepts responsibility.

“Definitely not a proud moment,” she said.

Residents and contractors can contact one-call by dialing 8-1-1 or 1-800-795-0555, or by visiting www.ndonecall.com . The PSC lobbied the state Legislature last year to increase the maximum fine from $5,000 to $25,000, in return giving excavators 21 days rather than 10 to complete digging after a site is marked. Kalk said the next step might be adding the possibility of business license suspensions for repeat violators.

“If we continue to have people that don’t follow the law, it seems that would be the next logical step,” he said.

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