Spring is in the air and that means the return of home improvement projects. But before digging, it is the law in New Jersey to be safe and call 8-1-1.

Chelsey Van Heest, process analyst at PSE&G said it's not just the big projects that involve contractors that require a phone call. Even smaller projects do. These include planting a bush, a tree, a vegetable garden, or installing a mailbox or a fence.

Striking a natural gas pipeline is extremely dangerous, said Van Heest. At a minimum, that could mean an evacuation or a road closure but at worst, it could mean a building explosion.

Calling 811 before digging reduces the chances of damaging an underground line to less than 1%. Underground gas and electric lines are everywhere, even on private properties. These can be easily damaged by excavation work.

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Van Heest said Jersey residents must call 811 to request a free, utility mark out at least three business days before digging (weekends and holidays do not count).

A mark-out ticket will then be issued, which includes a start-by-dig date. That is 10 business days before that initial phone call. The mark out is valid for 45 days so Van Heest said if the project is going to be longer than that, residents must put in for another ticket.

Utility companies will properly mark underground lines with paint and flags. Each mark out is color-coded.

Van Heest said the most common ones in New Jersey are red for electric, yellow for gas, green for pressurized sewer, blue for water, and orange for communications.

Property owners should hand dig within two feet of marked lines to find the existing facilities before using mechanized equipment.

April is National Safe Digging Month and in the country, about 31 million homeowners plan to undertake home improvement projects that involve digging, said Van Heest. But only 40% or 11 million people will call 8-1-1.

She recalled an issue in Texas last month that resulted in a huge outage. Somebody damaged a transmission line and that's where the larger, high-pressure lines feed into the smaller, residential feeder lines. 4,300 customers were affected in that incident.

"When that happens, everybody's gas has to get shut off and systematically turned back on one-by-one, make sure everything is functioning appropriately before we turn it back on. That's an extreme case but it's possible, said Van Heest.

She also added that in New Jersey, about 30% of the natural gas line damages that occur, happen because people did not call 811.

In 2021, PSE& G responded to 844 calls concerning excavation damages (713 gas and 171 electric).

More information about 811 is available at nj1-call.org or on the PSE&G website.

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