With this month’s annual tree-planting celebration of Arbor Day approaching, we want to remind everybody that before they pick up a shovel, they need to pick up the telephone and call 811.

The national “Call Before You Dig” number, 811, connects homeowners and contractors with the Miss Utility system in Maryland. Calling 811 gives utility companies the opportunity to mark buried pipes and cables before digging commences, protecting not only the utility lines, but those digging as well. Calling 811 is free for homeowners, and it’s the law.

Qualified professional locators are sent to the requested digging site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines with flags and spray paint. Each type of utility has a designated marking color to clearly identify the type of underground facility. The depth of utility lines can vary for a number of reasons, such as erosion, previous digging projects, and uneven surfaces.

Every nine minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first calling 811. Striking a single utility line can cause personal injury, property damage, repair costs, fines, and loss of utility service. Arbor Day volunteers are responsible for having all underground utility lines marked, regardless of whether they are planting a sapling or a full-grown tree.

As you plan your community projects, Columbia Gas of Maryland encourages volunteers to take the following four steps and dig with care around underground utilities:

Step 1 - Plan Ahead

  • Always call 811 at least two days before digging, regardless of the familiarity with the property. 

Step 2 – Allow Required Time For Marking

  • Maryland state law requires at least two full business days’ notice prior to digging. It does not include weekends or official state or federal holidays.

Step 3 – Respect and Protect the Marks

  • Do not cover up or destroy the utility markings as they indicate the approximate location of underground utilities. Contact the utility if marks are destroyed.

Step 4 – Excavate Carefully

  • Do not dig with mechanized equipment within 18 inches of either side of the utility markings. Instead, you must hand dig when you are within 18 inches of utility markings. Once the utility line has been exposed, protect the integrity of the pipe while digging.

If a strong smell similar to “rotten eggs” is present during digging or planting, we recommend that you take the following actions:

  • Immediately leave the area 
  • From a safe location away from the odor, call 911 and us at 1-888-460-4332.
  • Warn others to stay away from the area. 
  • Leave windows and doors in their current position. 
  • Avoid open flames or anything that could spark ignition including cell phones, lights, garage doors, or other power equipment. 
  • Do not attempt to operate pipeline valves or try to correct the leak. 
  • When emergency personnel arrive, explain the situation to them.

The 811 “Call Before You Dig” hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

For more information on digging safely in Maryland, visit www.MissUtility.net

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Have an emergency?

If you smell gas, think you have a gas leak, have carbon monoxide symptoms or have some other emergency situation, go outside and call 911 and then call us at 1-888-460-4332.