Arizona enacts underground utility marking legislation

State utilities already have begun to address compliance issues for a new Arizona law that takes effect at the beginning of 2006...

Jun 15th, 2005

PHOENIX, June 8, 2005 -- State utilities already have begun to address compliance issues for a new Arizona law that takes effect at the beginning of 2006.

A consensus bill governing marking of new active underground facilities was passed by both houses of the Arizona legislature this spring and then signed into law April 25 by Gov. Janet Napolitano. This law requires all new and active underground facilities installed in any real property after Dec. 31 include a detectable underground location device unless the facility is capable of being detected from aboveground with an electronic locating device.

As a result, the Salt River Project (SRP), a large electrical utility and provider of irrigation water in the Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun, is in the process of implementing electronic marking technology to mark their network of buried irrigation pipes.

One important aspect of the new Arizona legislation is a determination of responsibility for marking of sewer laterals that connect homes with residential sewer lines. This responsibility was formerly in question, but it has now been specified that Arizona municipalities are obligated to mark and locate all new sewer laterals and that the state's one-call service, Arizona Blue Stake, is responsible for managing excavation requests for sewer facilities.

Accurate sewer lateral marking is important because of safety concerns. It has been reported on several occasions over the past few years that Arizona contractors placing new facilities have unknowingly bored directly through unmarked sewer laterals. Such intrusions are likely to lead eventually to sewer blockages, with subsequent repair causing damage to the new facility. If the new facility is a gas line, that line could rupture and in turn allow natural gas to enter the sewer system and nearby homes with potentially explosive consequences. If the new facility is an electric line, the worker who unplugs the sewer is at risk of electrical shock.

"The precise location of buried non-metallic sewer lines is difficult for excavators to detect from above ground," said Sandra Holmes, executive director of Arizona Blue Stake, says high-profile excavation incidents affecting public safety in recent years have added impetus to the passage of the new underground marking law.

Holmes explains that the new legislation grew out of a collaborative effort by all of Arizona's public utilities as well as the National Utility Contractors Association of Arizona, the Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona and the Arizona Homebuilders Association. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Pima County Waste Water, the city of Mesa and the city of Phoenix also participated in its development.

Kathy Senseman, corporate public affairs supervisor for Southwest Gas Co. in Arizona, was one of the key participants in the legislative advocacy group. "This new underground facilities marking law represented a major undertaking," Senseman explained. "The state's Blue Stake law has been on the books since the late 1980s, and there was great reluctance on the part of municipalities and the legislature to make changes to it. The recently enacted law represents a compromise since it addresses only future construction activity, but all of the participants agree that it moves us in the direction of better safety and improved construction efficiency. Arizona is growing rapidly, with approximately 60,000 new homes being built every year, and we believe that consistent and accurate sewer lateral marking at each new residential location will contribute to the safety of excavators as well as the general public."

According to the Southwest Gas public affairs supervisor, the issue of sewer lateral ownership and responsibility has become a controversy in many states across the country. An opinion on the topic written by Oregon's Attorney General concludes that it is unreasonable to hold homeowners responsible to determine the location of laterals since they have no control over installation and cannot modify a sewer line without a municipal permit. This legal opinion served as a model for deliberation in Arizona, Senseman said.

"A number of industry specialists contributed technical expertise in the process of developing the new Arizona law, including underground location specialists," she reports. "For example, 3M demonstrated a utility marking/locating system for the bill's developers that can find underground utility features and provide excavators with useful information about exactly what lies below the surface. We found that the DynatelTM Marker Locating System from 3M is a good example of detection devices that are inexpensive, easy to install and effective and will make it simple for municipalities to comply with the new law."

Identification marking consists of programming and then placing small marker devices adjacent to buried utility components before they are backfilled. The programmed information consists of an identifying number along with information on the utility and the specific marked feature (i.e., pipe, valve, stub, cable, splice, etc.). Later these buried markers can be located and read remotely to give crews details of the underground environment before they excavate.

The Salt River Project is a long-time user of 3M markers. Sam Warren, SRP locating supervisor, says, "SRP has been using underground electronic marking for its buried electrical power lines since the mid-1980s, and the company is well aware of the benefits of marking technology."

He explains what is different now. "Population growth in the Phoenix area in recent years has made it necessary for Salt River Project to install a network of pipelines for non-potable irrigation water. Our irrigation pipes are commonly buried at depths between two and four feet, making them particularly vulnerable to excavation damage. The new regulations require that these facilities be marked, and as soon as the recent bill was enacted, the Salt River Valley Water User's Association began to acquire the necessary equipment and train field crews on the use of buried identification markers, including marker programming, proper marker placement in trenches, and marker documentation on prints."

Warren continues, "While not required by law, SRP will also mark old irrigation pipeline facilities wherever possible as areas are excavated or potholes are dug." This will be done both as a safety measure and to enhance facilities management."

Kevin Adam, a lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, was also a participant in the development of the marking legislation. He notes that the League was concerned that cities and towns were being given added infrastructure responsibility for marking lateral lines that they do not own and may not have built. "Overall we feel that a reasonable compromise was reached for marking new lines that should provide improvement to the Blue Stake process, particularly in the area of public safety. However, there are some issues that will have to be worked out in the future as to how to deal with locating already-established, unmarked facilities," Adam said.

Mike Bunch, deputy director for Waste Management in Pima County, reports that the initial revision to the Arizona Blue Stake bill would have put the full cost to mark sewer all existing laterals on cities.

"We were able to have input on how the Blue Stake law was formulated, making it more palatable to us for the long haul," Bunch said. "The new law has achievable requirements and gives us a fair start on locating sewer laterals. The county is gearing up for the January 1, 2006, implementation, which requires us to improve internal processes for tracking sewer lateral locations on three-dimensional mapping coordinates. This will represent an added expense to Pima County for administration and record-keeping, but the major cost will be in the future for locating and marking existing facilities - a challenge that will be much more difficult to resolve."

While safety was the major consideration in the collaborative development of Arizona's new utility marking law, it is also expected to improve the efficiency of the one-call process and of excavation work and will give municipalities and utilities greatly improved mapping and database resources for infrastructure management in the future.

For a summary of the Arizona legislation, see: http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/47leg/1r/summary/s.1417ced_strikermemo.doc.htm&DocType=S.

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