Chairman’s Message: Got Hits?

Jeff RumerNope. Not me. Why? Because when I call 811, I know when I show up with my crew and equipment, every utility will be clearly and accurately marked. I never need to factor downtime into my bids because in the unlikely event that the utility is not marked or mismarked. The utility owner always accepts liability, doesn’t file a damage claim and reimburses me for my downtime within 30 days.

Unfortunately, this scenario is far from reality. If it were, we’d all be spared a lot of aggravation and money. But the chance of utility owners  accepting liability for a utility hit is about as likely as President Trump cancelling his Twitter account. Damage prevention (DP) laws across the country are a mess, in large measure due to lack of uniformity, misplaced liability and inadequate contractor representation.

As if DP laws and regulations across the country weren’t screwed up enough, along comes the Gold Shovel Standard (GSS), developed and established solely by gas and electric utilities. The GSS believes its standard is the only solution to DP, even though they have no regulatory or legislative mandate to develop such a standard.

Under the GSS program, the GSS will “certify” contractors according to yet-to-be-seen requirements and assign them EICO scores. Bigger scores get more work. Utilities who have adopted the GSS will probably not hire contractors who opt out of the certification. The true motive of the GSS is circumspect at best.

Sadly, the GSS, just like DP laws across the country, shows complete disregard for the contractors’ point of view. These utilities are abusing their power. While CGA’s system isn’t perfect, it is much better than the GSS bullying contractors to pay for their certification or lose work. The GSS has been adopted by 20 to 30 utilities who are actively promoting the program to all utilities across the United States. We are concerned that the GSS intends to persuade states to mandate its requirements as part of their one-call laws for all utilities and fear it could evolve into a nationally “required standard.”

This is something I find very alarming.

Fortunately for us, PHMSA’s recent threat to withhold funding if states do not fix their one-call laws has persuaded many states to take another look at their laws. This is our opportunity to inject ourselves into the legislative process and ensure our point of view is heard Big Time. If you don’t know what is happening in your state, please contact your local chapter or your public utilities commission to find out. If there is activity on this issue, figure out a way to get a seat at the table while laws are being drafted or amended. If you need guidance on doing that, contact us. We are here to help, but we need your feedback to make DP laws more equitable across the country.

For its part, NUCA is working to become a clearinghouse of information. We need copies of your laws and for you to highlight what works work well and what should be avoided. Our goal is to provide contractors with information that leads to the best one-call laws possible. We are asking chapters to send us their marked-up laws ASAP. If you are not in a chapter area, please get a copy of your law (available on most state websites), mark it up and send it to nuca@nuca.com.

NUCA has also been working with a small group of organizations (AGC, APCA and DCA) communicating directly with the GSS Board. We have met with a group of GSS members and sent suggestions on how to improve the GSS program. Neither the meeting nor responses to our suggestions produced many satisfactory answers.

Last month, I asked you to get involved and now I’m stepping up the urgency. It doesn’t matter what kind of utility work you do. If the GSS catches momentum, we could all be facing a national one-call certification mandate.

Please stay tuned for more. This issue is not going away anytime soon.

See you in Vegas.

Jeff Rumer
NUCA Chairman of the Board
Underground Infrastructure Technologies
jeff@theuitco.com

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