Community urged to call 811 before digging to avoid fines, dangerous situations

Calling 811 before you dig can save lives and prevent a hefty fine.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 7:59 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - You may find yourself doing some yardwork this spring that includes digging, such as putting in a flower bed or a new fence line.

These activities, however, come with some risks if you’re not careful.

It is highly encouraged to call 811 before you stick a shovel in the ground. Not calling ahead of time puts you at risk of digging into natural gas pipelines, electric power lines and other utilities.

After calling, utility professionals will arrive and mark the underground lines using flags, paint or other markers.

If you don’t call before you dig and run into an issue, you could face fines up to $10,000 per day per violation.

The Wilmington Fire Department responded to multiple calls over the last few days that were from shovels hitting gas lines, resulting in leaks.

“Contractors and construction with bigger equipment like backhoes and excavators are hitting these lines sometimes, which is very unsafe. But it happens in small circumstances too, like with your shovel in your backyard or a posthole digger trying to put up a new fence in your yard,” said Wendy Giannini-King, community risk reduction coordinator with the Wilmington Fire Department.

The department has seen how a simple gas leak from digging can turn deadly. It happened in the late 80s, but by using safe digging practices, tragedies like that can be avoided.

“We haven’t, thank goodness, knock on wood, have had many line of duty deaths in Wilmington, but one of the more recent ones was actually due to a construction related gas line leak, which ultimately killed one firefighter and injured many firefighters and other workers on the scene too,” said Giannini-King.

Wilmington firefighters said that every time they are sent to a line break or leak, that horrific day comes to mind. It’s yet another reminder to simply call 811 before you dig.

Residents should keep this in mind, especially with the many Earth Day events that will be handing out free trees or plants. By calling 811, you can avoid damaging any underground utility lines while planting.

To learn more about 811 in North Carolina, including how to request service, click here.